By Nora Rosenfeld, VOX Media Cafe reporter
In a reality filled with a spreading pandemic, a sharp increase in activism, and a strong demand for justice coming from the Black Lives Matter movement, many feel compelled to take action but get lost somewhere in the search for how. A particular group often unsure of where their place lies in the movement is white people — those not personally affected by the cause for which they are fighting. Thus, they strive to become allies, those who align themselves with a movement and use their positions of privilege to further its goals.
This can be a very complicated job however, and there are few important steps that allies can take to ensure that they are being effective as possible in enacting change. Here are five ways for white people to become better allies.
Educate Yourself, Acknowledge Your White Privilege, and Use it for Good
The first step in being an ally is to understand that you can never understand what is like to be Black in America, or the daily struggles that African Americans face. For white people, regardless of the personal struggles that we may face, the color of our skin will never be a source of hardship. Once you have accepted this idea, you can begin to educate yourself about how to use your white privilege for good. This may include reading up on prominent anti-racist works such as: “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad and “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, speaking with Black friends about their experiences, and reaching out to people who are willing to speak with you about their struggles.
Another important responsibility of allies is to use the respect and status that you are naturally given, due to the color of their skin, to advocate for those who are at a disadvantage. Through no actions of your own, having white skin automatically places you in a position of power and influence over others, and it is the job of those with this power to advocate for those who were not born with it. According to Kayla Gilbert, a 16-year-old at North Atlanta High School, “The ultimate goal of an ally should be to use their privilege to amplify the voices of marginalized people.” This means not attempting to drown out the voices of marginalized people, but using your platform to help them to be heard. This may mean educating other white people on their privilege and how to use it for good, or spreading information about transgressions that do not receive the recognition that they should.
Have Conversations on Anti-Racism with Friends and Relatives and Hold them Accountable for their Micro-aggressions
It is important not to let small comments slide, because they contribute to an overall culture which tolerates injustice. For every racist comment that you leave unchecked, that tells the person making it that it is OK to think those things or act in certain ways. Microaggressions can build up, and they are a large contributor to many of the stigmas and stereotypes found in American society regarding not only race, but gender, ethnicity, and religion as well.
A term you may have heard recently in the media is anti-racism. This is the process of eliminating racism, and taking deliberate steps towards equality. It is important to stress upon those close to you that it is important not only to not be racist, but to actively be anti-racist. This means calling out people for their microaggressions, and ensuring that those close to you are aware that racist behaviors will not be tolerated. This includes slurs, offensive comments, and the invalidation of the experiences of POC. Kaylee Spivey, a 17-year-old at North Atlanta High School said, “Don’t allow your friends to gaslight black people who have suffered from experiences based solely on the color of your skin, and make sure that they hold themselves accountable for their actions, good or bad.”
Incorporate Black-Owned Businesses Into Your Everyday Life
When shopping, it is important to try to find options from establishments with black owners. Your money has more of an impact than you likely believe, and putting money into the hands of African-Americans can help you do your part to close the American racial wage gap. Black-owned small businesses are already at a disadvantage in the market, and it is good to show your support for diverse establishments, letting them know that they deserve a place in the American economy. This demonstration of solidarity and support on the part of allies can really go a long way to helping African Americans feel accepted in a society that repeatedly tries to tell them that they aren’t.
- Reference to find black-owned restaurants in Atlanta: https://www.atlantaeats.com/blog/29-black-owned-restaurants-in-atlanta/
Support and Acknowledge Black Creatives for their Contributions
Black creatives have built much of modern culture and do not receive the recognition that they deserve. From music, to art, to literature, many common artistic styles were started by African American artists who go grossly underappreciated. There is much to be learned from their works, and the ability to see a glimpse into their lives through their chosen methods of artistic expression is invaluable. By taking the time to appreciate black creatives and their contributions to the vibrant art culture that can be found throughout the world today, allies can both support their legacies, as well as gain a better understanding about persistent racism through the years.
- Reference: Website updated weekly with different black creatives by Kailyn Bryant and Mayah Bernstein, 2 high school students at Dreyfoos School of the Arts: https://embraceblackvoices.wixsite.com/website
- Text for book recommendations by black authors and links to buy them from black-owned bookstores: 409-404-0403
One of the most prominent methods of allyship that can be found throughout social media and the news is taking action. Protesting, signing petitions, making donations, and contacting politicians all contribute directly to abolishing systematic racism in America, and their value should never be under-appreciated. These are rights of American citizens that our ancestors have fought for, and standing up against corrupt government is a responsibility that should be taken on confidently and proudly. In cases like this, actions truly do speak louder than words, and white silence will only contribute to the greater problem.
- Reference for petitions that have not met their goals: pendingpetition.carrd.co/
- Reference to find your political reps and their contact info: https://myreps.datamade.us
- References of places to donate:
- Justice for Ahmaud Arbery: gofundme.com/f/i-run-with-maud
- Justice for Breonna Taylor: tinyurl.com/ybm8q6vo
- George Floyd Memorial Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd
- Justice for Elijah McClain: https://linktr.ee/justiceforelijahmcclain
- Defunding the Police: blacklivesmatter.com/defundthepolice
Support for Those Arrested at Protests: https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/nbfn-directory
VOX Media Cafe reporter Nora Rosenfeld, 17, attends North Atlanta High School.