I’m not just talking to white people here. Being an ally is also for other ethnic groups because I, as a Mixed Race (Black Caribbean and White British, Irish) cisgender woman will have no lived experience compared to say an Indian, Hindu man; or a Japanese lesbian; or a Native American Transgender woman etc. etc.
We all have certain privileges. I have the privilege to not have to worry about prejudices to do with complex gender identities or sexuality. Privilege not to have assumptions or hatred or violence due to my religion or culture.
I’m speaking to all of you; we all need to be better allies for other communities.
A video that I watched about a man’s lessons about race was very insightful for me as a person of colour. He mentioned perfectionism as a reason why some people don’t speak up about things like race and culture etc. As if it is an okay excuse to not show your allyship. (He got this from a book called Me and White Supremacy, which is on my reading list)
This isn’t right. We will all remain silent forever if we wait until we’re an expert in something before speaking about it. I for one (and he said this too) have spoken about topics that I’m no expert in, yet at the time I felt passionate or excited about it and so I spoke up.
So why can’t we also speak up about racial injustice and POC stories, even if we do get it wrong at times? (And when we do get it wrong, apologise, learn, and do better next time?)
Don’t give in to the fear of failure.
I’d rather a friend try and get it wrong but still stand with me, than a silent friend who doesn’t see it as her place to join the conversation.
He also mentioned something that a lot of people are saying on social media: it is not a black person’s job to explain their lived experiences to you.
He openly shared how he used to think his minority ethnic (although, we’re not minorities, we’re the GLOBAL MAJORITY!) friends should explain how things are racist because they’re the ones offended. But no.
People of colour have enough to carry and worry about every day, so then carrying the burden of educating everyone else is just not right or fair to ask for. Especially not in a moment when they’re probably feeling emotional and upset.
You are responsible for educating yourself.
If you want to be an ally; if you want to be a good person and do the right thing by friends and communities and THIS WHOLE WORLD FOR ALL OF US TO LIVE IN EQUALLY, then educate yourself. That education will take time. You’ll think that you understand and then be checked again and have to go back to the books.
But that’s okay!
At school, how long did it take to graduate? How about uni, how much effort did it take? Was it worth it? Do you now know everything and should stop learning? Hell no!
So the same goes for racial education (that’s what I’m calling it!). It will take time; you’ll fail tests, but you’ll get back up and keep going if you’re truly an ally.
Again, I’d rather my friends tried to speak up or listen to my experience than to stay silent and pretend it isn’t their fight to fight.
How can we be real friends if you don’t have my back? If you can’t listen and try to understand my experiences?
That might sound harsh, and I might be asking for a lot if you’re completely new to this, but conversations that are hard shouldn’t be ignored or silenced. We need to lean into them (as my bestie Brene Brown would say!).
Lean into the vulnerability and discomfort because guess what, people of colour are more than uncomfortable every damn day. Just out in the street or in the shops, watched and feeling like some other species or a threat. Our voices break and we get emotional and we get accused of being angry and yet we still speak.
So, will you sit in discomfort with us, as Brene says, and have empathy for us as we open a dialogue and have difficult conversations?
Getting defensive when the word racist or racism comes up, means you are making the conversation about you or the power behind the word ‘racist’. When in actuality, it’s about how what was said was wrong. And you don’t get to tell me that it wasn’t wrong; if it makes me feel small, or other, or labelled, or shunned, or dismissed, or silenced, because of what was said.
Instead, take a breath, think about it from the other person’s perspective. Ask for clarification (without being hostile or confrontational), apologise for REAL (no half-arsed apologies, like “sorry you got upset” which isn’t a real apology; that’s passive-aggression), and vow to do better.
There are many layers to racism that you don’t know about; don’t assume your words are harmless, even when (especially when, perhaps) talking to a “friend”.
Tone-checking black people
Like I say, black people get accused of being too angry when talking about their pain. Hmm, I wonder why that might be…
Pain hurts, right? When talking about someone who attacked you, you might be crying and shouting and feeling weak and yet trying to be strong, right?
Or speaking about a family member who died, your voice breaks and you cry and you might get hysterical and break things in your emotional turmoil which is, at times, a very physical pain experience.
So why is it not okay for BIPoC to give in to their emotions when speaking about racial injustice and racist experiences?
Their emotion makes you feel uncomfortable? Well, sorry, I’m not hear to make you comfortable with my pain.
Why do white people think it’s okay to say:
- There’s no need to get angry or hysterical
- If you just calmed down I might listen
- Why do you always get so angry and upset?
- Don’t get angry at me
- Don’t get so offended
- Stop making everything about race
- Don’t take everything so seriously, it was just a joke
- People just get upset about everything these days!
Just because you’re uncomfortable with my pain, doesn’t mean you get to tell me how to feel or express it.
Lived experience versus intellectual understanding
Example: Say you did all the research there is to do on living in Africa; you’ve studied for twenty years on books and podcasts and videos and talks with other intellectuals…does that make you an expert? Yes, perhaps.
But then what about the person who has lived in Africa all their life? They’ve lived up and down the country. Their family has been there the whole time. They’re fluent in many African languages purely from living there.
Who has more experience? Who can really, truly, have a higher stance on what it’s like to live in Africa?
I say this because some people think just because they have a partner or friend who is black or Asian or other, that they cannot be racist or prejudice. Like they’ve got a free-pass on everything they say or do.
That just because they’ve read some books on race, they must be immune to racism now.
No, no, sir!
Everyone can be prejudice. In fact, we all are. It is not enough to feel that racism is bad and you are a good person and you have friends who are BIPoC. You have not been let off the hook.
Your words still hold power and can cut me down with one strike.
Check your privilege.
(I’ve said this, too: “I’m with the LGBTQ+ community, of course, my sister is a lesbian!” But no, that does not make me incapable of being prejudice.)
Speak even if your voice trembles
Lastly, just know, as I said in the beginning, it’s supposed to be hard. The systems and conditioned learning we’ve ALL done about who is superior and what we’re supposed to think and feel about POC makes it hard.
Don’t blame or shun or leave the POC and other marginalised groups alone out in the cold just because it’s hard for you.
I know there’s so much I don’t understand about racial injustice and the history of the treatment of people of colour. I am ignorant of the lived experiences and lifestyle of trans people, or the many layers of gender identity and sexuality.
But we all need to do better. All of us.
Be an ally, even if your voice shakes. Be brave enough to do something that’s uncomfortable, for the betterment of our world and the inclusion of all its beautiful people.
You get to be an ally in whichever way you can and are able. I will not tell you how to do so. But 100%, it is everyone’s job to stand up against racism and any prejudice we witness. That person at the receiving end of it needs your help.
READ: This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell (finished it yesterday, such a great start for being anti-racist and learning about BIPoc history)
Thank you and take care.