So You Want to be an Ally?
If anything, 2020 has allowed us to be a little bit more frank with ourselves and others around us. No more sugar coating, no more 'just deal with it' and a lot more accountability. I've said it countless times and will continue to recognise June 2020 as a revolution and the beginning of the end to a life where institutional and systemic racism exists in the way it currently does. The uprise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year was significant to me in many ways. Most importantly, it was the first time after many years that I felt empowered to stand my ground and question whether I was certain that I had people around me, that knew the weight of their actions - or lack thereof - to truly helping the marginalised people in their life.
At the height of the BLM movement there were a surge of social media posts with information of what it meant to be an ally and people from the Black community sharing their experiences of racism in the past and present. Seeing these posts took me on a rollercoaster of emotions and questions like never before. I remember going on my daily walks with my mum and every conversation we had was filled with anger, frustration, sadness and confusion. This is why it was so important to see these posts. It weirdly gave me comfort knowing that it wasn't just me who faced these incidents, they started conversations that were normally not had and gave me the courage that I needed to move forward. I extended the conversation to my friends who inevitably didn't recognise the impact that the events of June had on me. The conversations that I had gave me everything I needed to know about who was willing to be an ally and who wasn't. Talking about race with people close to you who are a different ethnicity should never be tip-toed around or sugar coated. It's an exchange of raw emotion, vulnerability and understanding. If the people around you do not care to learn and engage (this lack of understanding can be explicit and implicit) about the things that matter to you, it's up to you to recognise that relationship will deplete you of all your energy and it may be time to let go.
Fast forward to a month later and I had to build up my courage again to write a letter to my workplace. During this time, my mental and emotional health had hit rock bottom. There was a constant cloud of sadness and exhaustion that surrounded me every day which led to me taking a week off work. The lack of action, empathy and support that I really needed at the time wasn't ever received and I gave myself a month to figure out the words I needed to use to communicate this to senior members of staff. I expected myself to be anxious and try to talk myself out of it but those feelings never came. Instead, I felt so much inner peace and confidence which told me that this was an extremely important situation that had to be conveyed, if not at least for the benefit of other ethnic minorities who may be employed there in the future. My letter (not surprisingly) fell on deaf ears but at least I did it. Even though I was proud of standing up for myself and others, I did feel some form of disappointment knowing that it wasn't enough to cause any impactful change. When speaking to my therapist about it she asked if it would make me stop seeking change when I recognised injustice. The answer is, absolutely not. There's a fire that's been ignited in what I feel capable to do and I hope my voice only gets louder.
Being an ally should never be all be about public displays of 'allyship'. This type of allyship can actually be harmful when people haven't done the work to understand their privilege, how it manifests and their every day actions that negatively impacts marginalised communities. Learning to admit blame and your wrongdoings when it's presented to you is necessary to achieving the goal of ending racism. This was most evident when I seen someone being called out for blackfishing, cultural appropriation and using the n-word. This was after their public displays of 'allyship' and support for the BLM movement. Whether or not they were guilty of absolutely everything didn't matter, what mattered was the avoidance of admitting their wrong-doing, non-acceptance of responsibility and reluctance to listen and learn about the situation. People cannot claim to want to be an ally and then disregard their actions as being harmful when they are being questioned.
So you want to be an ally, but what does that actually mean?
Listen, listen, listen. If you care about someone, it's worth hearing what they have to say.
Stop victim blaming. We are not at fault for a system that's been built to oppress us.
Understand that if you are White you inevitably benefit from a White supremacist system unknowingly. We were all born into it, some of us are at an advantage whilst others are at a disadvantage.
If you're in a position of power to increase access and equity to marginalised communities, use the power for good.
Stop sharing explicit displays of trauma online and offline.
Ask your marginalised friends and family how they are.
Do the work daily to learn about the world you live in and figure out a way to change it.
Recognition of the fact is the first step of course, but anti-racism is a series of lifelong actions to abolish the system.
Thanks for reading and I hope you'll go away knowing how to approach talking about race with people around you, especially those that it affects personally. Make sure to subscribe for updates of new posts and exclusive content!
Until next time,