George Floyd was murdered, while unarmed, by a white police officer over a minor offense. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two white men while he was jogging. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by two police officers who entered her home without warning. These killings, and many others like them, have one thing in common – the victims are black. The knowledge of these incidents has been spread by live video recordings and has created global outrage on the violence against black communities in the West, fuelling an uprising across America and the world.
While we are enraged, those of us who are not black should ask ourselves – what is my place in this struggle? How can I be an ally?
Currently, there are widespread protests all over the United States of America, and cities such as London, Berlin and Copenhagen, in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Although the protests have been commonly coined the ‘George Floyd Protests’, they are not a reaction to one death alone, but result from years of unchecked systemic and social racism, violence and police brutality against black people in the West.
While these protests were intended to be peaceful, they have been met with excessive and violent police force in America. The police have tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, beaten up and shot harmful rubber bullets at peaceful protestors – including children, and targeted journalists covering the protests. The police also shot a pregnant woman, triggering her miscarriage. Through these actions, the police involved have only proven the protestors right by displaying a complete lack of respect for black bodies and rights, instead using their privilege and impunity to carry out targeted violence on opponents of discriminatory policies and systems. To make things worse, President Trump advocated for looters to be shot, and escalated the situation to introduce a military response. If there are doubts on the racial overtone of this response, it is useful to juxtapose it to the reaction by the state to the white protestors who stormed government buildings with guns, demanding an end to the COVID-19 related lockdown.
The reporting of the protests often disproportionately focused on the looting and rioting that accompanied a few of the demonstrations. This sensationalism has fed into people dismissing or condemning the entire movement. However, it is important to clarify that most of the protests were entirely peaceful, and the looting was only done by few participants. It is also important to note that many of these deviants were white protestors who, by damaging property, endangered the reputation and lives of black protestors, and the cause of the movement.
On the other hand, many black activists have called for an end to prescribing forms of protest, especially by non-black people who can never understand the reality of their oppression, and especially when most of America blatantly ignored and even criticized peaceful protests led by individuals like Colin Kaepernick. Therefore, while not condoning the violence, we cannot allow a few instances of this distract from or cancel the call for an end to police brutality and racially biased systems and institutions of justice. This call is just, and with regard to black communities – the answer is long overdue.
Why We Should Actively Be Allies
This is not an American issue. This is a global issue. Black people all over the world are over-policed and subject to social and systemic racism. We must realize the anti-blackness that is prevalent in our own countries and work against it.
If we are for the restructuring of discriminatory systems and equality for black people – as called for by the movement – we must actively contribute to it. As long as we are not actively anti-racist and working against the systems that oppress black people, we are part of the problem. As long as the rest of us are silent, the system believes that it does not need to change and improve. We cannot pat ourselves on the back for not being complete bigots and still benefit from the system, while black people are alone on the streets fighting a system that targets and kills them.
For there to be a radical overhauling of existing unjust systems, all voices need to unite in solidarity with black people and the BLM movement. In a moral and equal society, this issue cannot be a discussion. Whether black lives matter or not is not debatable. There can be no justifiable ‘neutrality’ or ‘objectivity’ on racial equality – we are for or against.
To quote Desmond Tutu, a renown South-African activist, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” If this won’t spur you to action, then perhaps singer Rihanna’s call for allies to “pull up” will.
How to actively be an Ally
As a non-black person, I can never understand the reality of black communities and do not attempt to speak for them. Therefore, the following suggestions are an amalgamation of tips I have picked up from black activists, that I hope will be helpful in your fight against racism.
- Introspect and acknowledge.
Acknowledging our privilege, and how our actions and words feed into racist structures, is a good first step. When the system has been built to profit off of and oppress black people, there is always someone who is benefitting – us.
To those of you who are white, ‘white privilege’ may be an uncomfortable concept, but it is important to understand. Acknowledging this privilege of being white means acknowledging that across the world there is an established hierarchy rooted in slavery, colonialism, cultural genocide etc., because of which white people are still automatically given more resources and face less obstacles than black people and other people of colour.
It is not only white privilege that must be acknowledged, but also privilege that many non-black people of colour (PoC), including myself, benefit from. For example, Asians in the West often benefit from the model minority myth, where we are juxtaposed to black communities and shown as educated, law-abiding and more successful in order to perpetuate a racial hierarchy where we are placed above black people. We, in turn, benefit from this and perpetuate racist stereotypes about black communities. We must actively challenge this myth, along with the anti-blackness that is prevalent in many non-black PoC communities.
- Consciously correct.
However, simply recognizing our privilege and not being overtly racist isn’t enough. We must actively work towards identifying our more covert racist actions and correcting them. For example, Amy Cooper, who recently went viral for her racist interaction with Christian Cooper, very clearly weaponized her white privilege against Christian Cooper, because she was aware of her privilege but decided to use it against a black man. She was likely a ‘liberal’, but at that moment used a perverse system to her advantage. As long as we keep benefitting from our privilege, we will continue to feed into the system of the oppression of black people, and the system will never feel the need to change.
We must then actively use our privilege and platforms to spread information on how to support black movements and stop racism at every level. We must correct our friends and family when they repeat anti-black rhetoric or refuse to acknowledge and fight against the oppression of black people. Change starts at home when we have the hard conversations and call out everyday racism, even if that means we may lose some of our family or friends.
At the same time, we must be careful not to drown the voices of black activists with our own voices. Instead, we should use our privilege to elevate their voices and organizations, or else we become ‘white saviours’ who conduct performative activism that leads to zero change. Some of these organizations include Stand Up to Racism, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the NAACP among many others. These organizations have been fighting for the rights of black people for years and we should use our platforms to promote their work instead of our own.
- Protest & Petition
Using our privilege to fight racism can also include peacefully protesting, signing petitions, or donating to organizations.
One of the best ways to use our privilege is by voting for leaders who will actively work against racism and support system reform. Turn up at central and local level elections, and vote realizing the huge effects a different politician may have on the lives of a minority in your country that can’t mobilize to vote in leaders for themselves.
- Keep learning!
Continue to educate yourself. We will never truly understand what it is like to be black, which is why it is important to educate ourselves on the lived experiences of black communities, and their thoughts on how we should improve as allies. There are so many resources we can utilize, including books, movies, podcasts and articles. This will help us better understand our implicit biases and how we often unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, feed into the system of oppression. Educating ourselves also means that we can better educate others and call others out on their racism.
This is an uprising that has been building up for years. It is important that we are on the right side of history – actively against racism and in solidarity with black people all over the world. We must ensure the overhaul of systems that benefit communities on the basis of race. We must work towards creating systems of equal access to law, education, culture, political representation etc. Is this a far off goal? Probably. But it is a good fight. And a necessary fight. As long as we unite our voices and platforms and stand actively against racism and with the movement, we can make change.
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” – Ijeoma Oluo.
Disclaimer: Although Rostra Economica firmly stands against racism and unjustified violence, not all views represented in the editors’ articles are shared by the magazine.