Racism and police brutality toward the Black community has been highlighted, yet again, in light of George Floyd’s murder and other racist behaviors that have made the news in May of 2020. Since then, social media has gone into a frenzy of support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement (I’ve unfollowed many accounts that have not vocalized this) and I, too, threw myself into creating educational content for White people and non-Black POCs to promote allyship with the Black community.
For a more cohesive narrative, I’ll discuss allyship with the Black community in the context of exploring one’s social privilege, listening with humility, and “sitting with” difficult emotions.
Exploring Social Privilege
The social privileges that a person holds are unearned advantages used to the benefit of the individual and/or or to the detriment of others. There are different forms of privilege, such as those based on race and ethnicity, social class, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and age. For those in the dominant group (e.g., those who identify as White in the U.S.), exploring privileged aspects of their identities can be uncomfortable.
Many White Americans don’t realize that simply being White grants an elevated status and/or experiences, potentially to the detriment of others. The identities that society attributes value to contribute to social inequality and disparities in access to vital resources (e.g., affordable physical and mental healthcare). While reflecting on privilege I was challenged to look closely at the privileges I hold as an Indian-American and non-Black POC, as well as anti-Blackness deeply-embedded within the South Asian community.
Illuminating Anti-Blackness in the South Asian Community
Racist beliefs, obsession with fair skin, and anti-Black dating preferences are only a few examples of prejudice that some South Asians hold toward Black people. Before I could be an ally to the Black community it was important that I first addressed Anti-Black messages I’d been exposed to. My allyship has also included educating my community on dismantling these harmful beliefs. Also, as an Indian-American person I’ve reflected on certain social privileges I have over my Black peers (e.g., being viewed by White Americans as a “model minority”). Engaging in this inner work was the first step in becoming an “ally” to the Black community.
Engaging in Thoughtful Allyship
“Black people do not need allies. We need people to stand up and take on the problems borne of oppression as their own, without remove or distance. We need people to do this even if they cannot fully understand what it’s like to be oppressed for their race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, or other marker of identity. We need people to use common sense to figure out how to participate in social justice.”⠀– Roxane Gay (author of “Bad Feminist”) in her article, “On Making Black Lives Matter.”⠀
True allies are important because while they’re not personally part of the oppressed group(s) they support, they consistently strive to understand the struggle and can have powerful voices alongside oppressed ones. The privileges they hold can have a tremendous impact in spreading awareness in society to support marginalized groups (e.g. when White people support the Black Lives Matter movement).
As White people and non-Black POCs, it’s critical that we take a thoughtfully ally with the Black community to avoid common pitfalls. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves on how we can best support the Black community and stand in solidarity with them opposed to placing the burden on them to educate us. Sitting with difficult thoughts and emotions is an integral part of increasing self-awareness and consequently becoming a more thoughtful member of society.
Processing Difficult Emotions
In the field of mental health, “sitting with it” generally refers to the process of allowing yourself to fully experience and explore your emotions without minimizing or numbing them. In light of George Floyd’s murder and the aftermath, I realized that I hadn’t allowed myself to truly sit with my emotions. I finally allowed myself to cry and feel the grief, anger, and confusion that I overlooked in the process of immediately reacting with advocacy.
Only after we allow ourselves to sit with our emotions can we move forward with clarity and purpose in effecting positive change. Additionally, how we process our emotions is important, especially when faced with the urge to self-medicate and numb them.
Harmful vs. Healthy Coping Skills
Oppressive systems, such as systemic racism can deteriorate a person’s mental and physical health over time. For those in the Black community, visit this resource for Black Healing created by my dear friend, Micalah Webster, a Black healthcare professional. Systemic racism can foster mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, that can lead to self-medication as a form of relief. Dependence on a substance to regulate one’s mood can quickly develop into a vicious cycle that perpetuates mental illness. Coping skills are considered “healthy” if they don’t cause harm to yourself or others and if they don’t create a cycle of compulsive dependence (e.g., substance use, social media addiction, etc.).
Educate Yourself on Black Oppression
An integral part of allyship with the Black community is first educating ourselves on the oppression experienced by this community, both historically and in present day. A powerful way we can offer support is by acknowledging and honoring their experiences. Here are some resources to start with:
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
- How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- Divided Sisters by Midge Wilson and Kathy Russell
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Fatal Invention by Dorothy Roberts
- Locking Up Our Own by James Forman
- The Miner’s Canary by Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres
- The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
- 13th (Netflix)
- American Son (Netflix)
- Dear White People (Netflix)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (Hulu)
- King in the Wilderness (HBO)
- See You Yesterday (Netflix)
- The Hate You Give (Cinemax)
- When They See Us (Netflix)
- 1619 (New York Times)
- About Race
- Code Switch (NPR)
- Intersectionality Matters!
- Momentum: A Race Forward
- Pod for the Cause
- Pod Save the People
- Seeing White
- Fare of the Free Child
Engaging in thoughtful allyship with the Black community should be an intentional process. As White and non-Black people of color, it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves on Black oppression (both historical and present), do the inner work to explore privileged aspects of our identities, be open to “sitting with” difficult emotions, and approach allyship with humility.
Each of us has an important decision to make:
Will we choose to be complicit with our silence or will we choose thoughtful allyship with the Black community? Choose wisely.