Act Up Accountably


We are experiencing a profound moment in history right now in response to continued systemic anti-Black racism with the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner being some of the latest miscarriages of justice. While the actions and protests have been amazing, there also has been tension and much written about how white people specifically are showing up, and unfortunately some of how we have been showing up has not been helpful.

We know that people are doing the best they can with the information they have learned. AND, moving beyond good intentions into accountability with love, the SURJ Action Team, who has been active on the streets across the nation, want to share in some things we have noticed.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers and we make mistakes too, but we do feel confident on some basic do’s and don’t’s that we feel are worth mentioning.These suggestions have been helpful to other white folks engaging in this work.

We are being asked by people of color in Ferguson and NYC across the country for two things:

  • **To show up at actions called and organized by People of Color (POC)

  • **To organize actions as white people to call attention to anti-Black racism and the threat to black lives and the lives of People of color

From the artist and organizer Ricardo Levins Morales:

One more thing. You may not get the validation you hunger for…The thing is that when you help put out a fire the people whose home was in flames may be too upset to thank and praise you – especially when you look a lot like the folks who set the fire. That’s OK. This is about something so much bigger than that. There are things in life we don’t get to do right. But we do get to do them.

Now is the time to push your edge. We all make mistakes AND we keep showing up. We at SURJ invite you to share other examples of what has and hasn’t worked for you and in your community.

Do:  Organize white people to participate in actions led by People of Color (POC).

Don’t:  Expect to lead those actions.

Re-direct: When a white person is trying to take over and lead a march where they think it should go, we attempt to distract them, mostly by asking a MILLION questions, so this white person gets side-tracked and the POC leaders are able to regain control.

Do: Follow the directions of POC in actions.


  • Take over the action.
  • Escalate the action (unless directed to do so).
  • Get so into being the most radical person, that your risky action becomes a distraction.

Re-direct: When it looks like the situation could escalate towards property damage or physical violence toward cops, white folks attempt to surround and distract. We ONLY do this when it is a white person who is attempting to escalate. And, unfortunately, it is often white men who tend to behave this way. If there is time and emotional space, we try to talk about how that persons’ actions could put people of color at high risk, as well as feed into the media story of Black “looters.”

Do:  Help white people understand our “mutual interest” (ie what is our stake) with POC in overturning a racist, oppressive system.

Don’t: Tell white people that they are “helping,” “supporting,” etc. POC.

Re-direct: If a problematic sign appears and is being held by a white person (like ALL LIVES MATTER, etc), we attempt to engage in a one-on-one conversation about why the person is at the march, talking through some of their motivations, etc. We acknowledge the intent (which is pretty much always good) and then talk about how the impact maybe isn’t so good. Then, we re-join the action together.

Do:  Work as scouts, transportation, or other jobs as needed

Don’t:  Waste time feeling that you should be doing something more “important.”

Re-direct: White folks should be willing to fill behind the scenes tactical roles as scouts and transportation. Scouts use their white skin privilege to get close to staging areas of police or to drive around looking for places where cops might be. Information is then fed back to organizers on the ground at the march or action.


Do:  Listen carefully to POC, especially when they are telling you to stop doing something.


  • Interrupt.
  • Assume you already know what they’re going to say.
  • Talk over.

Do:   Take some initiative, but be thoughtful about it

Don’t:   Expect to be told by POC what to do at every point.

Do:     Educate yourself about interpersonal dynamics, racial justice history and politics, learn about the local POC-led organizations, etc.


  • Assume that POC will educate you.
  • Assume that POC are or aren’t as educated as you are.
  • Tell POC that you know how they feel.

Do:  Be aware of how your white privilege pushes you to claim leadership and control.


  • Believe that struggling alongside POC gives you a free pass to do whatever you want without consequences.
  • Think that you can ever get completely over your privilege and racism.

Here are a few good articles and short videos that go more in depth:

SURJ Toolkit of DOJ Action

The Disruption This Time

Dear White Protestors

Dear White Allies: Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson

We Want White Allies in the Ferguson Movement, But ‘It’s Not About You’

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