Here are some practical and important ways white Americans can fight for racial justice
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Hey, fellow white Americans.

It's been a week. Many of us are horrified by the murder of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans and are finally coming around to seeing how real the issue of racism is in our country. We hear our friends who aren't white asking us to take action. We may recognize that we have a responsibility to do more than simply "not be racist," but we may not be sure where to begin or what action looks like in practical terms.

Welcome to the world of anti-racism.

The goal here is to dismantle racism in our systems and institutions, as well as root it out within ourselves. As inheritors of a country built with the labor of enslaved Black people on land stolen from Indigenous people—a country whose systems were designed by and for white people—racism comes with the territory. None of us are immune.

Don't take it personally. We didn't choose our skin any more than anyone else, and this isn't about "guilt." But we inherited a racial legacy, and we have a responsibility to see where we benefit from it. We also have a responsibility to use our power and privilege to repair the damage that racial legacy has done and keeps doing.


A simple definition of racism used in racial justice work is "prejudice + power." Most of us are fairly clear on what prejudice entails —stereotyping, profiling, discriminating, etc.—but many of us struggle with what the power part means for us. And that's the part that we can utilize to enact desperately needed systemic change.

We may not consciously realize it, but white Americans, as a collective, have more power than any other single group to either maintain or change things. And we also have individual power that we can wield for better or for worse.

Keep in mind that none of this is simple. Since we're trying to build an equitable and just society—which we've literally never seen in this country or arguably anywhere on this planet—we're all in learning mode. But a lot of work has been done by racial justice advocates and activists to determine how white folks can contribute most effectively to this work.

Though not an exhaustive list, here are some practical ways we can use our power to push for racial justice on an ongoing basis.

Use the power of PRIVILEGE to disrupt incidents of racial injustice.

White privilege means your skin color offers you a certain measure of protection in our society—and that privilege can be used as a tool. That might mean stepping in with your voice when you witness injustice happening, knowing that a fellow white person or person in authority is more likely to listen to you than a person of color. Sometimes it means physically standing between a person of color and someone who is trying to harm them. We may not think it makes much of a difference, but it does. White folks are less likely to be viewed by other white folks as a threat or a suspect or a potential criminal, and we can physically disrupt racial injustice simply by placing our white self in front of it.

Here's an example of disrupting injustice with your voice:

Cracking the Codes: Joy DeGruy "A Trip to the Grocery Store" www.youtube.com

Here's an example of stepping in to shield a person of color with your body:

Use the power of your WALLET to support the work of people of color.

The economic disparity between white and Black Americans is a vast and often overlooked element of racial inequality. From the lack of generational wealth stemming from nearly 250 years of slavery to laws and policies that specifically kept Black people from accumulating wealth, white power-holders in the U.S. created and maintained this disparity. That doesn't mean all white people are rich and all Black people are poor; it means there's an ongoing collective disparity caused by racism that needs to be redressed. We can help by financially supporting minority-owned businesses, as well as creators, artists and activists of color.

Use the power of CHOICE to defer to leaders of color in this fight.

We are free to choose how we take action and decide who we listen to. Some of us might feel compelled and eager to lead a movement or launch an initiative ourselves, because that's how we're used to taking action. But there are already leaders in this space—powerful, activist people of color who have been at this for a long, long time, whether we've realized it or not. This movement doesn't need us to sweep in as a savior and take over anything. Look into organizations like Color of Change or Showing Up for Racial Justice. Our role is to take direction from the leaders already here, to listen and learn, and to be of service alongside the people who've been doing this work in ways that they tell us are most helpful.

Use the power of your PLATFORM to elevate voices of people of color.

Social media gives us the opportunity to speak publicly any time we wish. Most of us have fairly homogenous social circles, even if we live in diverse communities, so exposing our mostly white networks to diverse perspectives helps voices that need to be heard reach further. Start following social media account of people of color (here's a list of Black thought leaders to start with) and share their posts. When you read an article by a Black author, pass it along. Use the public platform you have to amplify the voices that need to be heard.

Use the power of POLITICAL ACTION to contact lawmakers and demand change.

White people have massive political power. We have always held—and still do hold—a disproportionate number of seats in legislatures (and all governmental positions). And whether we admit it or not, we are the ones who the people at the top listen to first and foremost. We can use that power to push for reform. One place to start right now would be police reform. The Center for Policing Equity is a good resource to explore what kinds of reform to push for.

Use the power of your VOTE to elect anti-racism candidates.

Don't underestimate the power of voting at all levels—local, state, and national. White folks have always been the largest voting block in the nation, and historically we've used that power to elect a disproportionate number of white government officials. Supporting people of color as candidates and voting for candidates with a proven anti-racism track record is one way to shift that power to make our government more representative of the American people.

And local elections are particularly important, as in many localities voters elect sheriffs, prosecutors and judges—positions that directly impact racial justice. If you're not sure if you're registered to vote or need to know how to vote in your area, go here.

Use the power of ACCESS to resources to educate yourself.

One thing that becomes woefully clear to as you dive into anti-racism work is how abysmal most of our education on the history of race in our country really is. Like, it's so bad. I grew up in a household that actively valued education and worked to battle racial prejudice and was still baffled. Most of us don't learn the full history of white supremacy and how deep those roots run. We aren't taught that the Confederate states didn't want to keep slavery primarily because of economics but because—as they announced in no uncertain terms—they believed white superiority over the Black race was and always would be God's intended purpose. We don't learn about the bombing of Black Wall Street in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. We don't learn the details of voter suppression, redlining, or the fact that MLK, Jr. and his activism was disapproved of by most Americans in his lifetime.

And that's just basic history. We also need to wrap our brains around the psychological, sociological, and economic impacts of racism. It's a lot, but it's vital. This link to Anti-Racism Resources for White People is a great place to start with that self-education.

** An important note here: While we need to listen to people of color, don't ask Black friends to educate you. It is not their job or responsibility to educate us on our own history and our own issues with racism. When we ask a Black person to educate us, we are asking them to do labor for us for free. When you think of it in those terms, it's pretty clear why it's problematic.

Anti-racism is everyone's fight, but we have a unique and vital role in it as white Americans. And if we don't use our power to actively push our nation toward equity and justice, we don't just contribute to the problem, we are the problem.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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