There were mixed reactions from the crowd watching Black Lives Matter activists interrupt Bernie Sanders in Seattle.
There were mixed reactions from the crowd watching Black Lives Matter activists interrupt Bernie Sanders in Seattle. Sydney Brownstone

When two #BlackLivesMatter activists disrupted a rally where Bernie Sanders was speaking, it pushed Seattle into the national spotlight.

As our city continues to grapple with the complex and nuanced issues that were raised that day, our hope is that this leads to an ongoing dialogue about what it means to be a white ally in the fight to undo institutional and structural racism.

Here are nine ways to get started:

1. Center all conversations about social justice on race. Racial disparities exist across all social indicators: education, health, criminal justice, housing, employment, poverty, and more. If you’re serious about social justice, don’t be afraid to lead with and name race. Otherwise, we’ll always be treating the symptoms instead of the root cause.

2. Seek out educational opportunities. People of color often hold the burden of explaining how racism works to white people. Take ownership and do your homework. Incredible resources exist to help people learn about our history and the various ways our institutions and systems are structured to benefit white people at the expense of people of color.

3. Listen. Give the people who live with and experience racism every day the opportunity to share their truth. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next. Don’t get defensive or shut down because it's hard to hear. Genuinely listen.

4. Flip the frame from the individual level to the institutional and structural level. When we focus on individual acts of racism, we lose the bigger-picture story. Challenge yourself to see the ways that racism manifests itself in our institutions, policies, and culture. It’s not always an intentional action that leads to a racist outcome.

5. Engage in discussions with other white people. Have conversations with your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors. Share resources and ideas. Support each other and organize people around an anti-racist agenda.

6. Support organizations that are led by and for people of color. Help put resources directly into the hands of those most impacted. There is an incredible amount of organizing and movement-building happening in the African American community right now. Fund it. Volunteer. Spread the word.

7. Name it when you see it. Use your privilege to call attention to policies, practices, and patterns that create unequal outcomes. Pay attention to popular culture and the various ways that stereotypes are reinforced through the media. Question the status quo and push people to have a conversation about how we can do better.

8. Learn to hold the tension. True racial equity work will not be easy, comfortable, or quick. It requires honest conversations and the need to check your personal privilege and bias. Own that and know that this tension and discomfort can lead to growth.

9. Start somewhere. Don’t let your fear of making a mistake, or saying the wrong thing, keep you from becoming engaged. We all have a role to play and we can’t afford to wait.

Rachael DeCruz is on the executive board of the Seattle King County NAACP and serves as communications chair.