Sincerely, Leaders of Color: What white allies can do
We’re often asked by well-meaning white allies what they can do to support our work. Here’s just a few places to start.
About this series: Sincerely, Leaders of Color is written for everyone in the journalism industry who cares about creating a more supportive environment for journalists of color to do their best work. Have a question for the team? Drop it here and watch for it in a future column.
I have been thinking a lot about the role of white allies in transformative, anti-racist change in news organizations. We absolutely need white allies. We need them at every level of the organization from top to bottom. But mostly, we need them to do more working for the cause and less talking about their allyship.
Remember, we do not hand out gold stars for good allyship. Folks just get to feel good about doing the right thing.
People mean well when they ask me for how to find more diverse job candidates (by the way, some good tips here). Colleagues are truly trying their best when they ask me questions that are easily Google-able. I see their efforts to better themselves, I do. But I am also exhausted by them.
A year after the so-called “Racial Reckoning” in news, what changes have we really seen? I know I’ve seen a lot of folks committing to “see” their BIPOC colleagues, when what we really need is for them to lift up their BIPOC colleagues. I’ve seen folks committing to “listen” to communities of color, when we really need them to step up and spend their privilege to advocate for communities of color.
This column is all about what people, of any color, can do to build a personal practice of allyship (which I have written about previously).
The questions selected for today’s column are both about white allyship and I hope we’re bringing concrete steps anyone can take to do a better job supporting BIPOC journalists.
Your Burning Questions
Over the years, I’ve seen a long line of white, male vocal “allies” end up being some of the toxic forces within organizations, often on the very issues they talk up. Partially as a response, I’ve generally tried to focus on areas where I feel I can contribute concrete efforts, focusing our partnership efforts, channeling resources, listening a lot, and giving room to let others take the lead. I also know that, reflecting on my career, there’s been times where I’ve screwed up or haven’t come through when folks needed me. Speaking out sometimes feel slightly hypocritical or pandering, particularly when it comes to statements we see after tragedies spark a wider conversation.
But as a (white male) organizational leader, I’ve realized that silence just isn’t enough of a response in a lot of cases. So my question: Any advice on when and how it’s useful for allies in leadership positions to speak up externally, particularly when at best it feels like it’s not enough and at worse feels slightly performative, however sincerely meant?
Hello! First of all, you’re not alone in this line of thinking. To be honest, I wish more white male organizational leaders were worried about this nuance.
And my answer is simple: show your support early and often and consistently.
A simple one-off of “Yes, Black Lives Matter! Any questions?” is going to feel performative if you’ve never spoken to your team about Black lives or racism before.
Similarly, “Of course we value BIPOC employees” is going to feel, and really be, performative if you know pay disparities in your shop fall among racial lines.
If you aren’t doing the work in the rest of your organization to show support for BIPOC and historically marginalized staff during these unprecedented times, then any words you put down in an email or rehearse for the all-staff meeting are going to fall flat.
Some examples of how you can show your allyship for historically marginalized staff through action:
- Close any gender or racial pay disparities
- Match staff with a mentor (internally or externally)
- Make career coaching available
- Compensate staff who serve on DEI committees
- Offer your sponsorship to a junior staffer
- Remove known abusers from power and management
- Develop and promote internal talent of color to leadership and executive roles
- Offer mental health days separate from existing vacation or sick days
- Make trauma counseling available to staff, at a low cost or free
Hello! What should I do better as a white person at a predominantly white institution mentoring early-career journalists of color? I’m a college professor, but I think this applies to folks in newsrooms as well. Internships and first jobs can be rough, and I want to prepare young journalists for the realities of the industry without being discouraging or cynical, especially since my own experience is related but not the same.
This is another great question, because educators play such an important role in preparing the next generation of journalists for the real world. But the good news is that although revenue models may be struggling, it’s actually a really exciting time to become a journalist. Whether it’s getting excited about data and open government, or coming to find out that your hodge podge skillset makes you a product thinker, young journalists today have all kinds of great opportunities — if they only take advantage of them.
First, try to connect them with each other! As a professor, hopefully you’ve taught and sent several successful BIPOC journalists out into the industry already as a professor. Help them help each other by offering to be a bridge between them.
Next, be generous with your industry contacts. If you can forward a resume here, pass a Twitter profile along there, and help folks in newsrooms become aware of your best and brightest students, that can help give them a leg up. And let the students do some of the work too: bring in your friends and former colleagues as guest speakers and let your students impress them with smart questions.
The number one thing you can do to help a young BIPOC journalist succeed is help them stay employed. This may mean you’re mentoring them on basic adulting skills: using appropriate language at work, dressing appropriately, having a mature attitude, etc.
It may also mean you’re teaching them the mechanics of holding a job: why it’s important to come to work on time, how to send professional sounding emails and Slacks, how to appropriately spend downtime (it is not streaming Grey’s on your phone while you wait for edits, which I learned the hard way!).
Having coached in several internship programs myself, I can tell you they need your guiding hand. I wouldn’t have made it out of my freshman year of college without my mentors and allies, of all colors. My predominantly white journalism school and predominantly white student newspaper were a struggle for me to navigate, even having been raised in a white family and a predominantly white suburb. Programs like the Asian American Journalists Association and ThreeSixty Journalism helped me build relationships with local journalists, many of whom continue to advise and support me today.
So if you’re lucky enough to be teaching in a city with an AAJA chapter or a local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, reach out to them too. Bring their board members into your class as speakers — and not just to talk about diversity issues. Help your students apply for their student newsroom programs, their internship stipends, and their award programs. These organizations are open to all, so you yourself could become a member of AAJA, NABJ, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists or the Native American Journalists Association as a show of support for your BIPOC students.
Emma Carew Grovum
P. Kim Bui
Leaders of Color