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Learning How to be an Antiracist Ally

It’s easy to be outraged, vocal and active when shocking stories hit the headlines, but how can we keep up the antiracist momentum once news cycles pass into the rearview mirror?
by Carrie M. King | Jun 24 2020

If the last few weeks have jolted you into realizing the depths of your ingrained biases, prejudices, and racism, then you’re not alone. It’s been emotionally exhausting to witness the cruelty of the societies we’re part of, but for white people, it’s also a reminder of the luxury of not having to think about racism unless we’re confronted with shocking news headlines.

There’s a danger in believing, too, that racism is only expressed in acts of obscene violence and abuses of power by a bigoted few, when the reality is that racism runs through the fabric of our societies. From facing overt slurs and violence to navigating daily microaggressions and systemic mistreatment, people of color never get to forget that our world is a racist one. Every day means contending with a world built for white skin, white ideals, white standards, white fears. In pretty much every country, the wounds of white history run deep.

Protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and the murder of two Black trans women, Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells in Pennsylvania, spurred mass gatherings globally, forcing people from all over to think about what racism means in their countries and communities. Activists have made meaningful gestures towards the kinds of societies they want to live in, the kinds of values they want to uphold.

learning how to be an ally

In Bristol, England, for example, a statue of slaver Edward Colston was pulled down by protestors and dumped in the city’s harbor, once a key port in Britain’s slave trade. Though the statue has now been retrieved by the city council, activists are fighting to ensure its accompanying colonial attitudes aren’t dredged up, too.

Even if you’re not an activist in the streets, there is a lot you can do to be an ally to the cause. A lot of content has been circulating online about the importance of “doing the work,” of not foisting even more emotional labor onto people of color by asking them to explain or justify their realities, their histories, their pain.

For those who don’t know where to start, we put together a reading list of 20 books by Black authors that illuminate not only the history and the present day realities, but outlines for a fairer future, and ways in which we can all work towards being antiracist.

Building awareness into our reading, our media consumption, and our understanding of how the world works gives us a much better chance of becoming real allies and not just people who pat ourselves on the back for being broad-minded without actually affecting any change. These news cycles will pass and it’s important not to let the visible urgency of the matter fade with them.

How you face the challenge is up to you, but here are some ways that you and I can commit to being allies over the long-term, not just when it’s trending on social media.

Start With Yourself

While it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge your place in a racist system, the reality is that we have all grown up and been socialized in a society that has malignant racism nestled at its core. No matter who you are, where you grew up, what kind of family you’re part of, or how wealthy or poor they were, we’ve all assimilated ideas about white superiority. Our world treats whiteness as the default, from the media and advertising we consume, to access to services, to beauty standards, to the fact that for so long “flesh-colored” crayons, band-aids or pantyhose have been questionable shades of beige.

While you’re going through this process, it’s important to remember that guilt doesn’t change anything but action can. By taking this as an opportunity to self-examine rather than self-flagellate, you’re more likely to gain a nuanced understanding of why you hold your beliefs, how you might have benefited from a stacked system, and the real changes you can begin to make.

Accept That You’ll Get It Wrong Sometimes – And So Will Others…

Now that you’ve got some idea about faulty beliefs you might have absorbed over the course of your life, you might be feeling a little icky. I know that I went through a phase of remembering every ignorant word or action I’ve ever uttered and wanted the ground to swallow me, but like everyone else, I’m in the process of learning. Along the way, I have gotten, and will get, many things wrong. Other people will, too. Be kind and understand where they are on the road.

…But Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Faulty Thinking

Much of the real work of antiracism is done in our own homes, among our own friends. When we hear someone we love say something that feeds into a flawed thought system, we need to challenge that viewpoint or language. This is really hard because we don’t want to tarnish our feelings about those we love, but most often it’s just a lack of understanding.

You don’t have to read anyone the riot act, but you can just gently make clear that you do not use that language, that you do not subscribe to those beliefs. To get a better idea of how to approach this, watch Vernā Myers’ profoundly moving TED talk.

Understand Exhaustion

When you feel tired with the weight of the world and all the injustices that it’s holding, just imagine what it’s like to live with those realities every day. Respect and understand the burdens that people of color carry, and be mindful of what a privilege it is if you haven’t had to do the same. Check in with your friends and don’t signal your virtue or look for approval or a pat on the back for how well you’re doing or how progressive you are.

A huge factor in providing allyship is in believing the stories you hear. If someone tells you they experienced racism, it doesn’t do any good for people who haven’t had those experiences to question their veracity or validity. This isn’t about you. Be there, listen, and provide support.

Learn Your History

They say history is written by the winners, but that does not mean it can’t be challenged. The histories we are taught are not always facts written in stone but interpretations laid on events by historians. For most of history, people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities and indigenous populations have been written out or overlooked, and the predominant or colonial culture has taken precedence over the complex and beautiful variety of ways there are to be a person. By exposing yourself to a fuller, more objective, fact-based history of your country or city, you open yourself up to how it impacts your present-day and that of those around you, and shows you how you can build towards a more inclusive, equitable future.

Take It IRL

It’s easy to rage retweet, but to channel that anger into something constructive is much harder to do. Diversifying your social feeds is great but if it just extends your bubble, then what impact is it really having? Start with making conscious choices about the media you consume, the books you read, the companies you buy from. And then think about your social circles. Granted, in the middle of a pandemic, it’s not that easy to start making new friends or changing up your social groups, but once things normalize, think about how you socialize and make space for a broader range of voices in your life, not just in your newsfeed.

Make a Habit of Change

At Blinkist, we’ve read a lot of books about making lasting, realistic life changes, and across the board, experts recommend making it a habit. When extreme events occur, we’re often moved to support causes or sign petitions for change. However, once the crisis has passed, so does the urgency we felt for the cause. If you can afford it, consider subscribing to an ongoing donation or committing to volunteer with local organizations on a semi-regular basis. Or, if you have books that helped you think differently, share them with friends and family, or with people who can’t afford to shell out for them.

Hold Your Communities Accountable

We are all part of a range of communities, whether that’s our family or friend groups, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, the brands we buy from. Do the work to hold the powers that be to account, whether that’s writing to your local representative, asking your boss about the company’s stance on antiracist action, or choosing to spend your money with sustainable, ethical, independent, or minority-owned businesses.

Being an antiracist ally starts with understanding, so examining the roots of your own beliefs will tell you a lot about where you need to go from there. Though it’s easy to feel jaded and powerless, making small changes and increasing awareness in yourself and those around you will be a meaningful support to a fight that’s been long waged and is far from over.

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