How to Be a Better White Person

Illustration for article titled How to Be a Better White Person
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I am asked, frequently, by people who happen to be white and also happen to read my work (or perhaps happened to listen to me speak) about how to be a better white person. I’m often compelled to answer, “Go to the gym, I guess, and be nice to bartenders.” Which is an adequate answer, but not quite the answer they’re searching for. They don’t want to know how to be better people who happen to be white; they want to know how to be better people who happen to be white to black people. Duh!


It’s a difficult question. Because while there are many things white America can and should do, the answer for individual white Americans basically boils down to having genuine empathy for black people and learning how to be a guest when in spaces and when interacting with bodies that don’t belong to you. Everything else fits under those umbrellas.

Also, I’m not quite comfortable giving any answers because I feel like whatever I’d say would be insufficient. And, well, I don’t really feel like it’s my job. Like, if I ask someone to build me a porch and the porch guy fucks up, it’s not my role to tell him how to build a better porch. Just build my damn porch, porch guy, and get your porch-building mentorship from someone else!

What I can do, however, is advise white people on how to be better white people to a very particular black person: me!

Still curious? Not anymore? I don’t care!

1. Give me money. There’s no metaphor or deeper meaning here. When you see me, give me some cash. I also accept PayPal, I have the Cash App, and you can start a Patreon for me if you’re compelled.

Granted, white people have recently made some strides in the “giving Damon Young money” department, and I do acknowledge and appreciate those efforts, but there’s always room for improvement.

2. If you see me in line behind you at Whole Foods or perhaps even while waiting to get into a Samantha Irby book signing, let me cut ahead of you. I’ve been waiting for 500 years. You can wait for five more minutes.


3. My wife and I have three bedrooms in our house. The third bedroom is both my office and my de facto closet. It is currently quite messy. Not dirty but just, you know, messy. Clean my room!

4. Co-sign on shit for me. Cars, houses, loans, Rent-a-Center couches—it doesn’t matter. If I can have it, I want it, and I want it with the credit you stole from my ancestors.


5. Bring me food. Not just any food. Try to stay away from anything with the words “potato” or “salad” or “chicken” in it. But pastries, various juices, seafood, different types of cured and cooked pork meats and pasta-related dishes are all fine. Also, no crackers or jars of mayonnaise, because that would be too on the nose.

6. Don’t drive at all when I happen to be on the road. Don’t ride your bikes, either. Basically, if I’m trying to get somewhere in my car, either stay home or jog. It would allow me to get to the places I’m trying to get to much quicker, which would be helpful, for me.


7. Buy me some forks. For whatever reason, I have more than enough spoons and enough knives to arm a battalion of squirrels, but I never seem to have enough forks. So buy me some.

This, by the way, is a different ask than the money ask. Don’t think that you can just buy me some forks and not also follow through with cash.


Being a better white person to me ain’t gonna be easy, but it’s worth it.

8. If we’re playing basketball together and I pass you the ball and you shoot the ball, make it! I picked you to be on my team specifically because of racial profiling and the practical shorts you’re wearing. So don’t have the audacity to look like Kyle Korver but shoot like Jae Crowder. Live up to your damn stereotype!


9. Give me compliments that are not also maybe microaggressions. For instance, I have a full and luscious beard that looks like it smells like blueberries. So walk up to me and say, “Damon, you have quite a full and luscious beard that looks like it smells like blueberries.” Don’t say, “Damon, you look like you smell like blueberries.” Because weird. But also racist.

10. Take a shit on the White House lawn while staring directly into Donald Trump’s face. I’d do this myself, but since y’all are allowed to roll up to and threaten Secret Service agents, I like your chances more.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



Ever since I saw that scene in ‘X’ where Malcolm told that White woman she couldn’t do anything to help Black people I’ve contemplated this question. Then, just last week it hit me. White folks ain’t that damned stupid, they could just stop that bullshit but what they really want is how to be helpful and maintain their status, which is some inherently contradictory bullshit.