In the tragic wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, a lot of people are beginning to wake up and see the need for major societal transformation. As a Black woman, I am continually inspired by the strength and resilience of my community. I am also encouraged by the diversity among dedicated protestors. To me, it seems that many of my non-Black peers have a new or rejuvenated willingness to become true allies. This really excites me. So much can be accomplished with constructive communal action. But make no mistake. The fight for justice is not for the faint of heart. We all need to be in this for the long haul to make sustainable change. As you navigate what it means to be an effective ally, bear these seven things in mind:
One of the fastest ways to overstep the boundaries of strong allyship is to speak over Black voices. I know that you have a lot of ideas. I know that you really want to help and I appreciate your enthusiasm. However, because this movement is pressing for the just and equitable treatment of Black people, our voices need to be lifted and prioritized. We need to be respected as the primary leaders. The things we say will not be censored for your comfort either. Be prepared for this, knowing that discomfort may be a sign of your expanding perspective. Every time you ignore or speak over a Black person’s voice, especially for the sake of your own convenience, you are inadvertently reinforcing the systemic power disparities that try to keep Black people silent. Do not accidentally become part of the problem in the midst of wanting to be part of the solution.
2. Donate (money, time, energy, etc.).
Share your resources to the best of your ability. If you are able, consider making recurring monetary donations to bail funds and Black organizations. Though many of the funds that are particularly being emphasized pertain to criminal justice reform, remember that racism permeates through every echelon of society, including women’s health. As you make decisions about the organizations you would like to help, consider ones like Black Women’s Health Imperative and Black Women for Wellness. If you are not able to donate money, there are ample opportunities to donate your time through volunteering. Do not evaluate what you are able to give by the amount, but rather by your heart behind it. Be willing to go beyond your comfort zone, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Think about how you can make a significant and sustainable commitment.
3. Educate yourself.
A huge part of the reason why racism is able to persist is that it suppresses the true voices of history through systemic ignorance. The abuse of people of color and their contributions to shaping society are often overlooked or deemphasized. Be intentional in doing your own research about Black history. It is not your Black peers’ responsibility to inform or enlighten you. This is the time to take the initiative. I would highly recommend taking open courses like this one offered at Yale and exploring books from different reading lists by Black authors. You’ll be amazed by how little many of us are taught about the richness of Black culture in school.
4. Support Black-owned businesses and Black artists.
Oftentimes, Black-owned businesses and Black artists are wrongfully held under the preconceived notion that their work only caters to Black consumers and audiences. It is almost as if because of their Blackness, what they are able to produce loses universal appeal or is appropriated by others to gain universal appeal. But now, by unlearning some latent segregational tendencies, everyone needs to support Black-owned businesses and Black artists to bolster their economic power and to embrace their work throughout our communities. A great way to start may be to learn more about Black women-owned wellness brands.
5. Hold yourself and others accountable against microaggressions.
In order to do this effectively, you need to understand what microaggressions are. Though the full definition is highly nuanced and contextual, a microaggression deals with perceived negative assumptions or conflations based on a person’s attributes. Most of the time, microaggressions are not intentional, but that doesn’t mitigate their detrimental impact. Being mindful of when you make microaggressions and calling yourself out in the moment can help reform your perspective and language for the better.
For example, in one of my writing seminar classes in college, my professor, an older white man, called me the name of the only other Black girl in the class. He caught himself and immediately said, “Oh my goodness. That was a microaggression. I’m so sorry, Kyra.”
Was the moment awkward? Admittedly, yes. However, it meant a lot to me that he was actively trying to reframe his perception of the world and being honest about his current shortcomings. Being humbled by the need to grow will in turn facilitate further growth.
6. DON’T normalize calling the cops.
Please don’t be like Amy Cooper, one of the most recent additions to the growing string of infamous “Barbeque Beckys”. Even generally speaking, calling the police isn’t something to be done flippantly or casually. There are plenty of other ways to resolve a conflict. However, when the circumstance involves people of color, especially Black people, the stakes of unnecessary police involvement are much higher. It has proven to be a matter of life and death. Policing as we know it today needs to undergo substantial reform in order for it to truly serve and protect all of us. Whether you are in favor of more community sensitivity training for law enforcement or Campaign Zero, you have to understand that calling the police right now can be dangerous. It should not be our normal or go-to way to work through problems as a community.
7. Check your intentions.
Make sure that you want to be an ally for the right reasons. Don’t act just to indicate that you’re a nice and “woke” person. Act out of a genuine desire to honor and support Black people. To be clear, no one is expecting pure altruism. It feels good to help. It feels good to be part of a greater mission for positive change. But if you don’t want to make sacrifices or you’re only willing to participate until the movement inconveniences you, you may want to reevaluate your motivations. This is not about you saving face. This is about all of us working together to change the face of our society. Always keep the end goal of equitable justice in sight.
I’m so grateful for you and all of the other allies in this movement. We’re all in this together. And as the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, also known as the Black National Anthem, goes, “Let us march on ’til victory is won.”