Am I an Ally? How to Educate Yourself and Take Action Against Racial Injustice
So you’re ready to step up as an ally but not sure where to start? Though this work may not come flawlessly or intuitively, this is also what makes it so necessary; because what these events tell us is that they have been endemic — part of white systemic and oppressive systems that yes, shaped our own complacence. They afforded us the privilege to not engage, while at the same time robbing Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd of their lives.
So if we are truly to step up as allies and help course-correct what will otherwise surely repeat, these are some starting points to be better and help make real world change.
It’s not about you
Recognize that while anti-Black racism involves you, this is not about you — it’s about addressing legacy wrongs. Nobody is disputing that your life may have been difficult. This is about the fact that your race or colour just weren’t those factors making your life difficult, offering you two major dimensions of privilege.
Shift the focus
Just because something is not in your realm of experience does not make it untrue. Question your assumptions and acknowledge that there is a whole other dimension of experiences you may not have been privy to because your skin colour acted as a pass to avoiding them. Focus on getting out of your bubble and understanding why you need to care. Then check that privilege by remaining sensitive to it as you step up.
- Here is a great video explaining how privilege works
- “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh
Be curious and seek understanding
Make space for Black voices by pausing, listening, and learning (or, more accurately, UNlearning). You will find there are countless incidents in your friends’, neighbours’, doctors’, coworkers’, teachers’ lives that highlight personal encounters with racism and discrimination that are undoubtedly painful. Behind the headlines there are others not getting the press. Just remember: listen, don’t lead. Then take a critical look at the pop culture you are consuming, and consider why and how representation matters. You can start here:
- TV Series: When They See Us, Explained: The Racial Wealth Gap, Time: The Kalief Browder Story, 13th, Who Killed Malcolm X?, Flint Town
- Movies: Becoming, She Did That, Teach Us All, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Hate You Give, American Son, Dear White Son
- Books: The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole, Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins, Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon, How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Sister Outsider by Audrey Lorde, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
- Podcasts: About Race (Reni Eddo-Lodge), Code Switch (NPR), The Diversity Gap (Bethaney Wilkinson), Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast (Chevon Drew and Hiba Elyass), Pod Save the People (Crooked Media)
Though you may never fully understand, take a stand
Acknowledge that though you may never fully understand this struggle, you nevertheless can step up and support Black members of our community. Work to empower changemakers and amplify voices that break down racism’s inner workings.
Learn and reflect
Educate yourself to help minimize your own experiential blind spots (and don’t offload that work onto your Black friends — it’s an unfair additional burden). While these blindspots may not have been your fault, you do have the responsibility to take ownership and do the right thing now that you know better.
Here are some helpful resources to start:
- Anti-Black racism in Canada
- The impact of slavery in America
- The impact of intergenerational trauma
- “Why is this happening?” — an introduction to police brutality from 100 Year Hoodie
- More anti-racism resources for white people
Systemic and institutional racism
Systemic and institutional racism consist of intentional laws and organizations designed to oppress entire groups of people of a certain race and/or colour for the purpose of providing unequal advantage to other groups of people of a different race and/or colour. What makes systemic and institutional racism so dangerous is that it can remain invisible for those who are benefitting from it. Here are a few examples of institutional and systemic racism against Black members of our community.
- Cradle to prison pipeline
- “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
- Racism in education
- Equal Justice Initiative
- Data For Black Lives
Language and terms you should know
Not sure what to say? You are learning and will make mistakes, and that’s OK. Here are a few important words and phrases to keep in mind.
- Understand what microaggressions are and stay away from them
- Use “Black Lives Matter.” Saying “All Lives Matter” minimizes the impact and pain acutely felt by Black members of our community, especially in light of the fact that they are disproportionately the target of racial profiling, harsher sentencing, mistreatment in prison, denial of services, and violence.
- That said, do know when it’s appropriate to use the #BlackLivesMatter as using it in the wrong context may bury important information and resources to those on the ground.
- Say their names. Those who lost their lives as a result of racism matter. Their lives matter. Honour their legacy and recognize their lives.
- Know what Intersectionality means and how multiple identities can add layers of discrimination.
- Get acquainted with the concept of White Fragility It’s the notion that information about racial inequality and injustice can cause feelings of discomfort and defensiveness in whites and that white people must build the stamina to sustain conscious and explicit engagement with race. You can take the test here to help get you started. Discomfort is not bad. Discomfort is an important and necessary part of a process that confronts injustice.
- The Language of Anti-Racism
People and organizations to pay attention to
Important work is already under way and you can take note of people and organizations engaging with this struggle.
Go beyond slacktivism
Because “not being racist” is not enough. If you are not actively working to dismantle these systems, you are (even unintentionally) reinforcing them…such is the case with well-worn paths. To truly help affect meaningful change, be anti-racist. Take action:
- Call out racist behaviours when you see or hear them.
- Engage in conversations about racism and #BlackLivesMatter.
- Push for change with your local politicians by signing petitions, writing letters and making calls. Show up at town hall and city council meetings.
- Donate to Black Emergency Support Fund, Justice For Regis, Justice for Floyd, Minnesota Freedom Fund, Black Health Alliance and other organizations.
Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s, Ahmaud Arbery’s and George Floyd’s death are flashpoint events that find us adjusting our collective lens and focusing our attention on the disproportionate injustices, racism and violence faced by Black members of our community, here and around the world. But if we are going to make actual change truly meaningful, then we’ll have to move from dialogue to ongoing action.
Before joining Corus Entertainment, Dragana worked as a journalist, producer and teacher. She received her Master of Teaching at University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, with a focus on social justice education.