Angelina Jolie Explains Why White People Shouldn't Be Leading Conversations on Racism

White people shouldn’t need a Black friend or relative to take the issue of racism seriously in this country. But as a white mom with a Black daughter, Angelina Jolie is uniquely positioned to understand how American systems and societies benefit her — but not her daughter Zahara. Jolie has long been a human rights activist, but the events of recent weeks have shifted her attention to home, and the Black Lives Matter movement going on at this moment. But make no mistake: while Jolie believes sweeping reform is necessary, she won’t be the one drawing up the plans. To truly understand racism, she says, there’s only one thing we can do: listen to those who have been the victims of it.

Jolie shared her new perspective with Harper’s Bazaar UK, explaining first how having a Black daughter inevitably affects her perspective. “A system that protects me but might not protect my daughter — or any other man, woman or child in our country based on skin color — is intolerable,” she said. “We need to progress beyond sympathy and good intentions to laws and policies that actually address structural racism and impunity. Ending abuses in policing is just the start. It goes far beyond that, to all aspects of society, from our education system to our politics.”>

Hear, hear! And when it comes to how those changes should come about, Jolie is no less forceful and clear. “It is time to make changes in our laws and our institutions — listening to those who have been most affected and whose voices have been excluded.”

Her advice on how to teach kids about race and racism is no different: “Listen to those who are being oppressed,” Jolie advises. “And never assume to know.”

These are powerful words from a woman whose voice holds so much weight, and it’s a reminder to all of us — especially white people — that we cannot value our own perception of racism more than its lived experience.

Jolie, like so many of us, hopes above all that this moment will lead to lasting change — a goal about which she’s hopeful.  “It feels like the world is waking up, and people are forcing a deeper reckoning within their societies,” she muses. Asked about her one goal for post-lockdown life, she replies: “That the focus on efforts to make structural change to protect vulnerable people stays at the centre of our discussions. That we don’t turn inward and we work with even more awareness of our shared humanity.”

As an activist who has traveled the world raising awareness, funds, and resources for those suffering from human rights violations, Jolie has a stronger sense of that shared humanity than most. All she asks — and all the Black Lives Matter movement asks, for that matter — is that we value human life, all human life, equally, and fight for our shared future.

Jolie understands that white people’s ideas and intentions won’t lead us out of a racist society. But a willingness to listen just might.

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