I found out about the lynching of George Floyd while I was scrolling on Instagram. I watched the clip, then I did four things. First, I repeated to myself that what I had just watched was not manufactured media but real life. Second, I cried. Third, I put my phone on airplane mode, overcome by the sadness of watching a human death and overwhelmed by the pervasive evil that is, in the age of cell-phones, undeniable. Fourth, I said nothing.
As a human rights activist, it is my fault that I have not spent more time using my platforms to speak about race, systemic racism, and privilege. Blaming the fact that I’m an empath and feel things excruciatingly deeply, or that I don’t want to be mistaken for having a white savior complex is just blatantly not good enough. I’ve come to see that my private outrage is not enough.
Action is the obligation of the ally.
My area of expertise is women’s rights, something I have spoken about, written about, and advocated for all of my adult life. What I have learned through women’s work is that oppression is often locked in place by those in a higher position of privilege out of fear: fear of a loss of power, fear of admitting oversight or wrong-doing, fear of being villainized.
Looking deeper into how systemic racism affects our society, I see these oppressive structures at play. The horrifying murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are not stand-alone occurrences. The call Amy Cooper made to the police, using her whiteness to vilify a black man, knowing exactly how her privilege would work to her advantage as if reading her plea off a teleprompter, is not a stand-alone occurrence. These abuses of privilege and power are manifestations of a greater societal virus, as is every inappropriate joke, every passing comment that sustains minority stereotypes, every day we spend not doing our due diligence to educate ourselves on the subject. There is only one truth here: the longer we do not turn our outrage into action, the longer we allow racism to plague our culture.
To understand racism in America is to know that it is not an individual mindset: it is carefully woven into our system at every level. It is deeply ingrained in the mechanisms of our society.
In his TED Talk about systemic racism, artist Paul Rucker said, “When it hides, it’s kept safe.” It is no longer enough to simply be sickened, upset, outraged. The only way forward is through education, advocacy, and action. Together, we must shine a light on these cracks in our societal structure and heal the wrongs that have become our norm.
The reality is this: if you are not a person of color, you will never be able to fully empathize with their experience. However, you can become an ally by listening and learning. The most beneficial thing you can do is open yourself fully to the stories of these communities from a non-defensive position. The following is a list of anti-racism resources.
- Read 75 Things White People Can do for Racial Justice by Corrine Shutack, America’s Racial Contract Is Showing by Adam Serwer, and Tips for Creating Effective White Caucus Groups developed by Craig Elliott, PhD.
- Watch Black Feminism & the Movement for Black Lives: Barbara Smith, Reina Gossett, and Charlene Carruthers on YouTube, Just Mercy on Amazon Prime, and When They See Us and 13th on Netflix.
- Listen to podcasts like Intersectionality Matters! hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw, 1619 (from The New York Times), and About Race.
- Follow the Antiracism Center on Twitter for real-time updates, and Shaun King on Instagram/Twitter for daily news and actionable steps.
- Reference this document compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein for further anti-racism resources.
“Action is the obligation of the ally.”
- Share consciously. In an age where every person has a sphere of influence, it is important to use our platforms to advocate for what we believe is right. By sharing educational resources through your social media outlets, you educate others who may not have access to the information you do. Sharing actionable steps is just as important as sharing condolences, as it moves the needle and not just the conversation. An important note: when sharing sensitive content that could be triggering, add a trigger warning first.
- Uplift. If you are in a position of power, it is up to you to advocate for visibility of minorities. Whether you are a business owner, a creative, or in the media, it is important to use your voice to amplify their stories and struggles. Silence can be found in consumerism as well as on a personal level.
- Vote. Educate yourself on the politicians running for positions of power regionally and nationally. Seek out politicians whose policies support putting an end to police brutality, advocating against environmental racism in your community, and addressing biases in the criminal justice system. The more we the people stand our ground, the more the system has to shift to fit us.
- Sign petitions. We have seen great power in numbers when we rally together to sign petitions and share them throughout our communities. In May 2020, we saw how a petition helped open an investigation into the three men who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, which successfully led to a scheduled hearing on June 4th. The few minutes it takes to sign your name in support of these causes could lead to justice.