Being an Ally - Black Lives Matters
News of the Black Lives Matter movement has been sitting in the back of my mind for a long time now - since about 2013 when it was set up by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi after neighbourhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman was acquitted of shooting and killing the teenager Trayvon Martin.
But the thing is, having it sitting in the back of my mind is a privilege in itself. That I am able to check in and out, educating myself is a privilege. It is not my lived experience. I do not have to deal with the reality of racism every single day of my life, as people of colour do. A lot of us are checking in at the moment - horrified at the killing of George Floyd, as we were at Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and so many more - and that is good - we should care about those around us being persecuted. But our black friends have been dealing with this forever. They don't have the option of checking out, finding a different news story to interest them - this is their reality.
It is times like these are a reminder that those of us with a platform - a voice, who are not people of colour, should be using that platform to educate ourselves and to support black voices, black movements, black causes, rather than witter on about how guilty we feel for unintentionally perpetuating racism. Feel Fit believes that every colour, size, shape, and age matters, and we want to use our platform to help. So, here are some better ways to be an ally:
(A small disclaimer: I write this as a white person, attempting to encourage other white people to address this issue.)
In this country you can go from age 5-18 without being taught anything about the UK history of racism. We learn about the US, the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King. We might have read To Kill a Mockingbird in English. We may have heard a little about how the white politician, William Wilberforce abolished slavery in the UK. But our understanding of how the country we live in pillaged foreign lands, and exploited entire peoples is limited. This colours how we see the problem. Racism is a problem in the UK as well as in the US. It is ingrained into our systems and our society. The fact that we are unaware of this, as white people, is a privilege. But we can educate ourselves. There is so much material out there explaining the history and implications of racism in this country; all out there for you to read. We need to do the work. Here are some books to start (and a lot of them are on audiobook too!)
Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch
Why I'm no Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
When we Ruled the World: The Ancient and Medieval History of Black Civilisations
When they Call you a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
And your Children:
Those of us who have their own children, or who have contact with children, have a responsibility to model inclusivity, diversity and equality - to show them how important it is and what benefit it brings to us all. Our children watch us all the time, and they are little sponges. They will listen to our words, but they will put more stock in our actions and the way we treat those around us.
But we also need to try, in our homes, to undo the institutional racism that runs through our whole society. Look through your children's story books. Do they contain characters of different genders, colours, races, faiths and sexualities? Look through the information books on your shelves. Are your children learning about global stories as well as European fairytales? Do they have the opportunity to see black people as heroes, successes, role models? If not, here are some suggestions:
Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs
A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell
This Evening Standard article lists 30 fabulous children's books which celebrate diversity: https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/books/best-childrens-books-diversity-a3974701.html
And your social circle:
Facebook and Twitter algorithms have us all in our little echo chambers - we only see the people and pages who agree with us. These sites literally tell us what we want to hear. This means that we tend to assume that all those around us think the same way as us. But this is not the case. All you have to do is look under the comments of news articles from LBC or The Guardian, for example, to find many many people who do not view racism as a problem, who are not welcoming of people of colour or people with different faiths, or from other countries. I'm willing to bet that we have all had that awkward moment during a family dinner or a social event where the person we think is generally reasonable has suddenly said something very un-inclusive and surprising. And this happens online too.
The automatic response is usually to pull away from the subject, laugh off the comment and talk about how work is going, or what the weather has been like.
But this is ducking our responsibility too - if we believe in inclusivity, diversity and equality are key to a good society, then we need to address these attitudes wherever we find them. We always have a responsibility to speak up and challenge racism. You can disagree with someone and still love them. I would highly recommend James O'Brien's book "How to be Right" for ways of doing this. (And his LBC radio show for many examples).
Diversify your feed:
We all live our lives on social media, especially now we are physically isolated a lot of the time. If you are serious about inclusivity, if the voices of people of colour really are just as valid to you as those of white people, then your instagram, twitter and facebook feeds should reflect this. What we see on a daily basis is what we regard as normal - it's why so many of us have called for more diverse body images in the media, and it stands here too. In a recent instagram post, we shared some accounts to follow and learn from. Here are some more:
@emmadabiri (she has recently posted a really interesting list on how white people were invented)
And use your profile to boost the voices of black people - the artists, the educators, the authors, the musicians - share and share again.
Campaign for change:
It's not enough to read the news and bemoan how awful these tragedies are. We should also be prepared to take action. Now, this will look different for different people. Not all of us are in a position to go on marches, but that is only one option. You can also consider donating to charities (see below), signing petitions (such as those asking for statues of racist historical figures to be taken down all over the country), or writing to your MP.
And don't think that the only issue at stake is racism in the police. There are many other areas of society where being a person of colour can endanger your health, education and happiness. Take an interest in these too.
Here are 10 anti-racist UK charities you can donate to:
Show Racism the Red Card
Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust
Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI)
Kick It Out
Stop Hate UK
Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER)
Discrimination Law Association (DLA)
Race Equality First
Black Lives Matter UK (UKBLM)
If we want a world where every single individual is valued, loved and cared for no matter the colour of their skin, their faith, their sexuality, the size, age or gender, then we have to do the work. We can't change the world without changing ourselves.
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