The last few days have been heavy. This isn’t the normal type of post you’d come to my blog to read but writing about anything else doesn’t feel right. The murder of George Floyd has been heartbreaking and distressing. We must act now to dismantle systemic racism and protect Black people. In this post, I am going to cover the various facets of how to be an ally.
While this isn’t a subject matter I cover frequently on my blog, I often speak up about injustice, diversity, inclusion and equality on Twitter and Instagram. I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I am committed to learning and taking action. I believe we all need to stand in solidarity with the Black community. We need to use our voices, be angry, be loud. Racism is systemic and it’s upheld by quietness and inaction.
What is an ally?
An ally is someone who may not be a member of an underrepresented group but takes action to support that group. Often allies hold a position of privilege as they sit outside of the underrepresented group and can, therefore, advocate for that group to a wider audience. It’s important not to take up space unnecessarily, to the detriment of people within that community who are also doing the work. Amplify people’s words, don’t speak over them.
As someone who is not part of the Black community, I recognise my privilege (more on this later) and I try to use my position to amplify Black voices across my social media platforms and in real life. I know that I have access to certain groups of people and I try to use my position to effect change and support for equality for the Black community.
There are two terms which are important to understand within the broader umbrella of allyship – optical or performative allyship. I’m sure you’ve seen people RTing Dr Martin Luther King quote, articles and petitions online. Without actually doing the work to understand the work of MLK, reading the article or signing the petition, these actions are just for optics. It seems like you’re aligned with a cause without taking steps to break the systems which continually serve to oppress Black people. This is optical allyship, which is a term coined by Latham Thomas.
I’m sure you’ve seen a swathe of blackout squares in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Again, without taking further action, all this seeks to do is increase your social capital without doing the work and it can do more harm than good.
I realise that this may be an uncomfortable realisation or moment for self-reflection. Try to welcome the discomfort. Realising your privilege and holding yourself accountable to actions which go against an entire system of oppression is hard but necessary work.
Acknowledge your privilege
An important step to becoming an ally is to acknowledge your privilege. This doesn’t mean that your life has been easy and you haven’t faced hardship, it simply means that you haven’t faced hard times or discrimination due to your skin colour, gender or sexuality.
As a non-Black person of colour, I face discrimination due to my race and gender however I must also acknowledge the privilege I benefit from too. I touched on this in a previous post discussing what dating is like as a woman of colour.
It’s important to take some time to understand how you have benefitted from your privilege and what access it affords you. This is the first step to understanding how you can work to dismantle structural racism. It is often easier for you to educate others within your own community. For example, anti-Blackness is rife within the South Asian community and as a member of that community, I have work to do to educate others.
Aside from acknowledging your privilege, it’s’ important to educate yourself on issues of race and racism. Understanding the history of racism as well as the current issues are equally important. This is where you start doing the work – it’s not the job of Black people to educate you about race or racism. The same goes for any underrepresented group. Google is free and there are plenty of books, articles and podcasts.
Diversify your feeds + amplify Black voices
As well as reading books/articles and listening to podcasts, I urge you to diversify your social feeds to continue learning. Scroll through your ‘following’ lists on Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok. Are you following Black creators? Diversify your feed and engage with their content, else you’ll wreck their engagement rates. Again, be active and do the work.
I try to follow a broad variety of people on social media to help educate myself. I listen to their experiences and understand issues that people from underrepresented groups face to help me become a better ally.
It’s also important not to centre yourself in these discussions. It’s not the place to display your outrage or add your 2p worth. Your silence can help create space for Black people to speak. You can help by amplifying the voices of Black people by sharing their threads and posts to your followers. Use your platform to uplift underrepresented voices and help them reach people they may not have been able to reach otherwise.
Also note: avoid sharing graphic images or videos showing violence against Black people. They shouldn’t be shown and shared as they are triggering and further dehumanises Black people.
Take action and donate
As you diversify your feeds, you’ll notice people are sharing lots of petitions demanding justice as well as links to donate to organisations or individual families. I also urge you to sign and share petitions to amplify them as well as donate if you can. You can also write to your local MP to ask what actions they are taking to combat racism.
Speak up and challenge racism
This is the tricky part which may make you feel uncomfortable but you need to do it anyway. When you hear people making racist comments, call them out. It’s not enough to not be racist, we must be actively anti-racist. Some of the hard conversations will be with family, friends or colleagues, use your influence and privilege to help educate them. Some racism stems from ignorance and people may not realise how harmful their words or actions are.
I’ve had several tough conversations with people about their use of the n-word. Occasionally this has led to a heated argument and I no longer speak to some people but my life is better off without ignorance and racism.
I hope this post on how to be an ally has been useful. If you want to diversify your feeds, keep an eye out for my next blog post, I’m going to share some of my favourite Black creators.