Gabriella Cazares-Kelly is a community organizer and member of Indivisible Tohono, a grassroots organization that provides opportunities for civic engagement and education for members of her tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona. She is an educator and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.
Gabriella wrote “3 Things to Keep Me From Rolling My Eyes at Your White Privilege” featured on Colorlines in April 2018. In the article Gabriella presents three best practices for White allies trying to meaningfully engage with people from underrepresented groups at meetings, protests and events. Below is an excerpt from the article.
“‘I am also encountering more and more people of color who are bearing the burden of the demand for representation. We continuously hear things like, ‘How can we get a more diverse crowd?’ ‘Why aren’t people of color showing up?’ ‘People of color need to vote.’ Each time I want to scream, ‘Why would I want to bring my friends of color into spaces like this?’
Yes, we’re doing our part. We are calling out racism and microaggressions and teaching people, sometimes literally on the streets, how to be better allies. But that effort can’t be one way. Here’s a few ways that White people can show up for the people of color coming to your meetings.
1. Get to know us.
Over the past few months, I have been in three separate activist and political spaces where I was the only person of color in the room or one of only a handful. In two of these meetings, I’ve been offered leadership positions literally before I’ve even introduced myself.
Stop. Doing. That.
Get to know who I am as a person. Find out what my values, interests and skills are. Find out what I do for a living and what my other time commitments are. Find out if I’m even interested in representing your organization. Don’t offer me a leadership position simply so you can brag about your diversity. Offer me a position when you’ve seen my skills in action and you believe I would be an asset to your organization.
2. Show up for our events.
Show up to our fundraisers, protests, fairs, film screenings, powwows and art exhibits and be engaged. I’ve been participating in your culture for years and years. Now it’s time for you to step out of your comfort zone for a few hours. Come to my event and listen and learn. Don’t use my event for recruitment; in fact, keep your flyers at home altogether. If you value my viewpoint as a person of color, spend some time surrounded by it, especially if I’ve invited you. Building community is about getting to know people as individuals, learning names and building trust.
3. Give us enough time to speak.
Over the past year, I’ve been invited to share about my community and the issues that affect us a handful of times. Most often, I’m given 10 minutes, but it always turns into an additional 20- or 30-minute question-and-answer session. I need more time because what is common terminology or cultural understanding to me may need to be explained to people outside our community. So the next time I’m offered a 10-minute time slot, I’ll be informing the organizer that I will need 20.
There are many things you can do to support the few people of color who are showing up to your meetings, but almost all of them center around you treating us like individuals and taking the time to get to know us. Every community is different and we’re all learning about one another. Although things feel frantic, we have to quit rushing the building of relationships. This isn’t a race. We’re not just learning to come together to oppose the Trump agenda or to create more diverse photo opportunities. We’re building relationships that will transcend the current political climate and will help push progressive, intersectional and truly equitable ideas and legislation forward.”