So you want to be an ally to BLM? Here are all the main mistakes to avoid
The do’s and don’ts of your new found activism
The widely viewed murder of George Floyd has triggered a surge in global Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. However, it has also revealed a potential stumbling block that could and has hindered the true dismantling of racism/anti-black racism: white fragility and performative ally-ship.
My white peers have disturbed their perfectly curated Instagram feeds with a black square, they have dipped their toes into activism by posting the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #JusticeForGeorge. I can’t help but be dubious of this sudden ally-ship and interest in social issues. My ancestral side-eye is cued every time I scroll and then feelings of sudden confusion and anger rush to my head as I read the captions. So, to all the white people who have come here to learn, here are some tips on what not to say, how to navigate your white fragility and avoid performative activism. Every easy mistake to avoid as an ally – from me, to you.
Please stop being surprised that racism still exists
Recently I heard a white person say: “I can’t believe racism is still a thing”. That was enough to trigger a panic attack and force me to refocus on using the tools my therapist gave me. ‘Okay so let’s work backwards, what are you feeling right now?’, ‘Anxious and sad,’ I say to my very slowly and fading rational self. ‘Why are you anxious?’. ‘Well because there is a lot going on right now and I don’t know what to do’. ‘Okay, that’s fine. Why are you sad?’. ‘Because I’m going through two pandemics at the same time, but I’ve only realised it now’
George Floyd’s death is not the first to be videotaped and linked to a Black Lives Matter protest. The BLM movement was founded in 2013 in response to the many black people who were victim to police brutality. Names like Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and many more were plastered on posters with phrases like “I can’t breathe”. Unfortunately, since the founding of this movement, there hasn’t been a shortage of black names to add to solidify the need for the movement.
This is why I can’t help but cast a side-eye at those (predominantly white) who are stating that they can’t believe police brutality or racism is still “a thing”. Forgive my facetiousness here but when did racism ever go on annual leave, or take any kind of break for that matter? A lot of black children will often be given the talk on racism and how it will affect the way they navigate this world before they are ever given other coming of age talks on sex or dating.
Accept and understand that Britain is racist, and you were probably raised racist
I have never not known that racism does not exist. I’ve always been aware of it. It announces itself to me when I walk into a store and the security guard follows me. It creates a seat for itself on my shoulder when I walk outside with my natural hair and get stares of both disgust and curiosity. It becomes intimate with me when I am in a room full of white people who praise my eloquence and tell me they are very surprised at how intelligent I am given my background. It presents itself when I achieve something, and white people minimise it to me meeting a status quo. It is so ubiquitous and violent I’ve had to learn to take its many punches on the chin and move on with a broken and bruised body.
The disbelief in racism’s present existence, simply shows me how out of touch many white Britons are with the history of their forefathers. White Britons like to point the finger at America and say racism is only an American issue whilst ignoring the slave trade, colonialism and intentional underdevelopment of African and Asian nations it used to become the nation it is today.
As a white person, it is your responsibility to dismantle white supremacy
Many successful western nations were founded on racism. If a nation has never had its foundations dismantled, why would anyone ever expect a change? I say all this to not dismiss white ally-ship. In fact, we have to encourage it because racisms fate is ultimately determined by white peoples decision to uphold or dismantle white supremacy. But I am saying if you have come forward to help me, it is not up to you to dictate how I receive your help.
I introduced the term white fragility at the beginning of this article because I have seen how allies become so defensive and dismissive when we talk about whiteness. White fragility was actually coined by Robin Diangelo who is an American academic, lecturer as well as author. In the book ‘White fragility’ she outlines how white liberals…emphasis on liberals are histrionically inept when discussing race relations.
But in your efforts to dismantle it, don’t speak over black voices
I’ve seen this myself in my university Facebook group. A BLM march was created by a group of white people and when the organisers were called out about this and how it could be seen as taking the mic and speaking over black voices, their white fragility jumped out. They responded saying it wasn’t their “intention” and they were “just trying to support the BAME community.
See there are two issues with that statement: Firstly, intention does not always influence impact. In addition, I doubt there were pure intentions to begin with because wouldn’t you have reached out to the black community first before deciding to organise this march? Secondly, this is not a BAME issue, this is a BLACK issue hence the name BLACK LIVES MATTER. It’s a movement created for us, by us. There is no solidarity within the BAME community. The clerk who called the police on George was a POC, there were two police officers of colour who stood there and watched George die.
Don’t act like activism ‘can wait’. Racism can’t be put on hold, so neither can activism
When facing racism, and when these conversations get a bit too much for non-black people, they are able to walk away from it. That is a luxury they have. In the same group, I also had to interact with a white peer who stated that she understood the reason for this but couldn’t it just wait because a large group of people together would be putting potentially thousands of others at risk because of the pandemic. My first instinct was laughter because how else am I supposed to comprehend this ignorance. Couldn’t it wait she asked…couldn’t we wait to hold the police accountable for killing an innocent black man because he was black.
Couldn’t we wait to ask for the bare minimum by simply stating that our lives should matter because they haven’t in this world for hundreds of years. Couldn’t we wait and suppress our anger and sadness at the violence perpetuated to our community simply because of our skin colour? No, we can’t wait.
Please be aware that protesting isn’t ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’
The final post I’ve seen in this group is a second protest being created with the caption “Back by popular demand”. I’m sorry is McDonald’s releasing a McFlurry I’m unaware of? Seriously? You do realise that black people are actually tired of protesting. Black people don’t do this for clout and we most certainly don’t do it to look cool. We have been protesting for our lives to matter for hundreds of years so nothing, my dear, is ‘back’.
I’m marching for the same cause my mother marched for and her mother before her and her mother before her and her mother before her. Generations of black people have experienced this imposed pandemic and acquired generational trauma because of it, but hey, marching is cool now!
Don’t rely on black peoples’ trauma to teach you about racism
In the same group chat a white peer advocated for black people to share their stories on racism. I’m assuming this was said because maybe it will seem more real to them, or maybe hearing it from their peers will really make it hit home. But here’s the thing: white people know what they have done to us. They know the brutality of slavery. The raped bodies of black women and the lifeless bodies of black men hanging from trees. Asking black people to share the stories of their racist encounters could be triggering because racism is literally traumatic. If black lives matter to you, so should our mental health.
As relieved as I am that more white people are understanding that black lives matter, I want you as an ally to question why it’s taken you so long to come to this conclusion? Was it because you watched George cry for this mother while begging and pleading for his life? Was it because lockdown left you with no choice but to take in the sheer horror of that video? Or is it because you would like to seem ‘woke’ and ‘not like the other white people because you’re a cool white person’.
I’m not here to attack you, but I’m also not here to soothe your white fragility. You won’t get a cookie from me for not being racist. There’s only so much educating your black friends can do. I suggest as white allies, you put your money where your mouth is. Support black businesses, support black authors, support black creatives, donate to the organisations doing the work, sign petitions and hold your institutions, workplace and social circles accountable for the lack of action they’ve taken until now. Do more than just tweet, because black lives mattering beyond the movement is just the tip of the iceberg.
For more of my thoughts on racism and guidance on allyship, listen to my podcast ‘Chasing Jupiter’ on all major listening platforms.