"As a white person, how can I be a better ally, without, like, speaking on behalf of people of colour?"
Down to the pauses, and the "like," I have gotten this question down to a science. It has been burned into my brain. And though it comes out slightly different each time (some don't use the "like", some use more "likes", some take longer or more frequent pauses, taking forever to get to the point,) they all return to the same place: "How do I be a better white ally?"
After a recent event, where that question was presented to me for the third time in less than a week, a friend and colleague of mine and I walked to a quiet space after speaking on a panel together. We walked back casually with smiles on our faces - as the event did go well, and we did enjoy ourselves- and as the door closed behind us while we entered the room we instantly dropped our shoulders and our smiles and at once, both said similar variations of the same thing: "if I get asked this question ONE more mothafuckin time!"
From workshops, to panels, to conferences, the question I receive most often, no matter where I speak, is a white person wondering how they can do better in fighting against racism. And I know it never fails to get asked just as many times, if not more, to my fellow black activists and educators. So I made a small list. Not only as a way to help answer this question for curious white folks, but also, and more importantly, to take some of the burden off of those who are constantly confronted with this question. So here it is. Want to be a better white ally for me? Here are a few ways to start.
1) Do. The. Work.
Racism isn't a mess that should be left to racialized people to clean up. Hell, it isn't even a mess that we made in the first place. You want to be helpful? Do the work. Start actively finding ways to dismantle white supremacy, unlearning your own problematic ways, and take the time to learn about things you never knew, or just don't quite understand yet in regards to race and racism. Don't leave all that labour to us to do for you.
2) Decolonize Your Mind
White supremacy is incredibly powerful, and intentional, and runs so deeply throughout our society and the systems we live in. Being born into white privilege isn't something you can control as a white person. But what you choose to do with that privilege, is.
You also- and this is very important, so pay close attention- can’t engage in other isms while claiming to care about racism. You must decolonize your mind from homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, xenophobia, and any other form of discrimination. Because if you’re only willing to stand up for certain black lives, then you’re missing the point entirely. And if that's the case, then I don’t want your “allyship.”
3) Be Willing to Give up Real Privilege
Don't forget, being down for the cause means you actually have to be willing to deal with what that entails. The first part in being a great ally is recognizing how much privilege you actually have, then being confident in your ability to have to let some of that go. You don't serve enough purpose to white supremacy as a white person who genuinely wants to dismantle racism. And that might come with - even the most insidious forms of- rejection. But think of it this way, what's the worst that could happen? You get treated like a person of colour? Ha..ha...am I right??
4) Collect Your People!
Call them out. Be responsible. Because I am no longer the one. If you invite me over for dinner, knowing your racist aunt will be there, and instead of defending me you wait for me to go off on her, then that is not allyship, or even real friendship. You placed me into an uncomfortable, potentially dangerous situation, and if God forbid I stand up for myself I'll be the "angry black woman" in a matter of seconds.
It is safer, and makes more sense for you to confront other other white people when you recognize their racist behaviour. Now it might seem like quite the burden to have that kind of responsibility. Trust me, I get it. But remember, people of colour are always held accountable for what few people in the entire race do.
5) Don’t be Comfortable With Subtle Racism
Most white people I know are quite friendly. They smile at me. Are willing to stick up for me if I was in a dangerous situation. And as far as I know, aren’t KKK members. But the thing is, being silent in the face of racism might not be intentionally contributing to it, but you certainly aren't taking away from it either. The racist jokes you hear friends say in the locker room, the comments your parents or grandparents make about the person of colour they encountered in the grocery store today. Shut it all down before you unintentionally give it more room to grow.
6) Don’t Speak on Behalf of Us
Simple. As. That.
7) Value Lived Experience
In my workshops I've gotten questions over the years like "what anti-racism model do you use?" and "is there a statistic for this?" (after telling an entire story that is a personal experience of mine.) And while I understand it is important to have as much information as possible as an educator. It is necessary to pull from theories, and books, and films, and articles, But the reality is, no matter how long you've spent with your head in the textbook, nothing will ever trump lived experience. A white woman could have a masters degree in race studies, with a focus on anti-black racism. She could likely tell me more about the geographic history of my people, the wars we've lived through, the genocides that have taken place. But she could never tell me how it feels to move through this world in a black body. And that's the difference.
8) Don’t Tokenize Us
Don’t use your one black activist friend as your 24/7 encyclopedia. Just like sway, they don’t have all the answers. Being black isn’t the same experience for everyone. And while some will certainly be happy to be that point of contact, at least just ask.
And of course, the more obvious meaning of the word, don't tokenize us in your dating and/or friend circles. Tokenizing someone based on their skin means that all you see in them is the stereotypes that you expect of them based on your preconceived notions of that race.
9) Don’t Ever Tell Us How We “Should” Feel/React
Our anger is valid. But our calmness, even in really shitty moments, is just as valid. Understand that when it comes to code switching, we are ninjas. We know how to act accordingly in certain spaces for our own safety. You encouraging me to rage because a white girl in the club said the N word isn’t helpful. That could be a potentially dangerous situation for me, especially in a club filled with people who don’t look like me. So, ally, if that’s how you feel, then this would be the time where you step in.
10) Don't Ask This Question
Okay, it is a good question and I do believe that it comes from a genuine place. So when I say to not ask this question I don't mean stop learning new ways to be a better ally, or stop asking racialized people what they need, or how to be useful in anti-racism work. What I mean is don’t take up space with this. Or at the very least, before coming to an event and asking this, do your research. Read articles, blog posts, listen to podcasts. It goes back to the importance of doing the work and not continuing to put the responsibility solely on people of colour. Think about it this way, anti-racism work requires the dismantling of white supremacy, so for you, as a white ally, take time to ask yourself the question: how can you be a better ally? Because the truth is, you have more access to dismantling white supremacy from within than we do from outside.
This Black History Month has been beautiful; it brought us another year of unapologetic celebration and education of a history that is often ignored. It brought us an even stronger sense of togetherness than usual. And most importantly, it brought us Black Panther.
But just like there are thousands of ways to exude our Blackness, there are just as many ways to celebrate BHM, and what I enjoy most- not just now, but especially now- is highlighting the Black excellence that exists around me. This means buying from Black businesses, supporting local Black art, showing up for events put on by Black folks. Supporting our communities and ensuring Black innovators have opportunities to thrive is so important. So now that BHM has quickly come to its end, make sure you keep these local Black creators in mind all year long.
1) Sayless Movements
Looking for something stylish to wear? Well sayless and look no further. Sharano Hanna, a Bahamian-born local student believed that Sayless Movements was worth bringing to life because it's "more than a brand, It's a lifestyle!" Luckily he did, because there is so much to love about this clothing brand and the people behind it! With a variety of amazing clothes, a CEO who possesses a warm and uplifting attitude, and an awesome, hardworking team, Sayless Movements is one to look out for.
2)Tyonna's Landscaping Company (TLC)
She's well dressed, always smiling, and wants to help you with your lawn-related needs! Tyonna Roberts, a recent university graduate, created her own personal landscaping company last year to assist homeowners in the Niagara Region. With clients in St. Catharines, Welland, and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Tyonna enjoys working hard in the landscaping business. She's an intelligent young professional who is incredibly accommodating and loves to help others. This is a whole lot of #BlackGirlMagic.
3) Divine Royalty
The brilliance behind Divine Royalty, Josh Miah, manages to be involved in the community, work as part of his university's Black History Month committee, and cater food, all while keeping on top of his studies. From Ghana, to Toronto, to Niagara, Josh's culture is shown through his exquisite soul food. Jerk chicken, fried chicken, macaroni pie, plantain (you'll have to take up the plantain pronunciation argument with him, I'm not the one,) fried rice, mashed potatoes...need I go on?
4) Royal Black
Opuda Horsfall put a lot of time into Royal Black before sharing it. As mentioned on the brand's website, "the idea came in 2010, the designing started in 2015 and in May 2017, Royal Black Official was introduced to the world." There's a variety of designs to choose from making it hard to choose just one item. Royal Black thrives with a great team who works endlessly to provide unique clothing that everyone can enjoy!
5) Faithfully Faith
Faithful Poku is a recent university graduate who has put her creativity and passion into something new, exciting, and very entertaining. As a content creator on Youtube, her videos so far have been hilarious, informative, and quite useful. She gets real with us even if we aren't ready for it, but it's so needed. She doesn't hold back, and that's what I love most about her. Click below to check out her most recent video and see for yourself!
Youtube: click here to watch her most recent video!
Zomy Ibe and Kellian Gordon are here to remind you to prioritize your fitness. I know, I know, you're probably dreading it, but they've actually really managed to make exercising fun. Their videos are entertaining to watch, but also bring a sense of motivation and empowerment, making you want to be right there working with them! New to the fitness world? No worries! They give tips, tricks, and details on how to properly execute certain workouts. So what are you waiting for? Get to it!
Emmanuel Harawa is a current university student studying in Sport Management, athlete in track, and brilliant musician. His voice does more than gives chills; it resonates inside of you. His music is meaningful, soulful, and goes back and forth between singing and rapping. Want to know for yourself? Find him on itunes, or click the soundcloud link below!
Itunes: album- To Love A Woman
8) Stay Woke Radio
Don't sleep on these three, because they're doing big things this year. I've said it before and I'll continue to say it forever: unapologetically taking up space is a form of activism, and that is exactly the kind of activism I see in the work of Tianna Thomas, Donte Rolle, and Tash'i-nga MaBonzo through their local radio show "Stay Woke". These three students discuss various topics, and play afrobeats, hip hop, reggae, and soca on a predominantly white campus radio station. That, to me, is pretty bad ass. Tune in every Thursday from 8-10pm!
9) Chris Lawrence
An activist, creator, future filmmaker, and full time student, there really isn't much that he doesn't do. You might've seen Chris Lawrence at the local donut shop, on Twitter saying all the things the rest of us were thinking, or taking photographs around the neighborhood. He's made short films such as Being Black Is, and blesses our timelines with his photography skills, and loud activism towards injustice. He is bold, brilliant, and dripping with melanin-infused excellence.
10) Benny Miakanda
Ever need a good, quick laugh? Well I think I've found the medicine. Benny Miakanda is a young, local comedian who specializes in short videos that he shares on Instagram and Youtube. His content, acting, and overall video production is stunning. His jokes are often rooted in lived experience of culture, race, family, friends, and more. He's funny, creative, and relateable. This new comedian is on the come up, and exudes so much Black excellence.
I’ve had many conversations about this over the years. And have gotten many questions: why have Black History Month? Shouldn’t we celebrate every day? Black history is everyone’s history, so why reduce it to 28 days? I’ve thought long and hard about all of these questions. And I think they’re all valid. But the more I've looked into this topic, the more I’ve realized why this particular month holds such significance. Black History Month doesn’t mean that celebrating blackness is restricted to four weeks. We can do that every day. But there are a few ways in which this month is special. Here are 5 reasons why Black History Month is important to me:
1) I never want to stop recognizing black excellence
It is necessary to give credit to the many leaders who have paved the way. Those who fought endlessly, endured physical and emotional pain, and even died to make sure that our lives are better than the one's they lived. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t black leaders today who are protesting, standing up, and challenging racist institutions and practices. Not to mention the amount of black excellence that is seen on a regular basis. Whether it's noticed in Black entertainers, musicians, artists, students, parents. We are kicking ass every day.
2) Our history is unique…and ongoing
I’ve heard quite a few people say that Black History Month shouldn’t exist because blackness should be recognized at all times. Though this is true, it’s important to understand that our history is unique. We are undoubtedly one of the most marginalized groups to ever exist. So this being a time to celebrate us even more, is really not a bad thing. To say that Black History Month is not necessary is to assume that racial equality has ever been present.
3) We don’t seem to question other times of celebration or awareness
The fact that it’s called Black History Month doesn’t actually mean we’re only important for this particular amount of time. It means this is a time to promote our culture, our struggles, our successes, and celebrate our blackness even more! Think about things like Diabetes Awareness Month or Mother’s Day. By no means is this suggesting that us diabetics are somehow cured for the other 11 months of the year.
Or that mother’s aren’t awesome every day. Sometimes it’s just nice to put more attention than usual on certain situations, people, or issues.
4) Cultural appropriation is alive and well
One of my favourite quotes from my favourite book Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness by Rebecca Walker, insists that "you cannot have our cool-ass Black style. You cannot determine its existence. You cannot define it. You cannot be the primary source of the validation of its creation, nor give the expert explanation to penetrate the collective cultural imagination. You can’t have credit for discovering its brilliance, because if you do, it ain’t cool no more, ya dig? White cold examination kills Black cool. So step the fuck back, okay, baby? Black style is ours. It belongs to us.”
Every once in a while we need to remind everyone where exactly these “new trends” came from. Black History Month is a good time to do that.
5) No, there shouldn’t be a White History Month
11th grade history class. My teacher said we would be starting to learn about Martin Luther. My face lit up and I was smiling from ear to ear. I was so excited to finally learn about someone who looks like me. To learn about a part of history that I can relate to. Ahh, Martin Luther King Jr. I couldn’t wait to hear more about him. My teacher pulled up the first slide of the presentation and I saw a white face. I looked around horrified as if he must have made a mistake. “Today we’ll be learning about Martin Luther, the German professor of theology.” My heart sunk.
If you are anything but white, you know that white history is everywhere. On our screens, in our classrooms, and even in our workplaces. Especially for those of us in North America, it seems as if escaping whiteness is nearly impossible.
We are a race drenched in culture, resilience, beauty, pride and excitement. We have always-and will continue to- exude greatness even with all odds against us. We will express our blackness however we individually see fit. We will be worthy of love and respect whether we are surgeons, scientists, or inmates. We will demonstrate love and unity the best way we know how. We will stand up. We will work hard. We will extend thanks and gratitude to our ancestors without failing to recognize the brilliance of those of us that are here now. Black History Month is ours. It belongs to us. And it shouldn't go unnoticed.
I was fortunate enough to be invited as a panelist for a discussion on Black Lives Matter at a recent event. I had the chance to meet with mother, activist, and educator Akio Maroon, who was the keynote speaker of the evening. I sat on the panel alongside peers, professionals, and community members. We had incredible discussions while examining racism from many different perspectives. As I stared out into the crowd of mostly white faces, seeing white tears, white guilt, white understanding and white shock, I couldn’t help but have one thought at the top of my brain and tip of my tongue. The thought that this isn’t all my work. It isn’t all our work. To have to continuously teach white folks how to not be racist is fucking tiring.
We spent a lot of time talking about microaggressions. I found it important to emphasize the fact that racism can be hard for some to identify because not everyone actually knows what it looks like. Racism doesn’t only look like lynching or Jim Crow laws. It isn’t only seen in apartheid or segregation in America. It doesn’t only come in the form of brutally violating black bodies. It comes in so many different ways. Microaggressions do the job that obvious racism can't do: it shits on blackness subtly, so that white folks can find ways to not be held accountable. Examining microaggressions allows us to understand the ways in which race and racism affect every aspect of racialized people’s lives from the way we walk, talk, dress, the music we listen to, all the way to what we eat. Think I’m exaggerating? I've had black folks tell me that they refuse to walk into a KFC because of the stereotypes that come along with it. I know people- myself included- who will correct themselves when they talk or walk in a way that could be seen as threatening or unfamiliar to white people. The way that black folks are forced to constantly rethink the ways in which we move through certain spaces and around certain people, is arguably an ongoing internal death.
This is the type of shit that'll make you want to self-segregate. To need to de-stress from being black. To need to go home, take a bath and unwind from all the ways in which your blackness has disrupted your day, knowing that it will happen again tomorrow. And tomorrow. And again, tomorrow. To have to call in black to work: “my apologies sir, I’m just really not feeling well today. I’m really not feeling like fighting with you about whether or not I deserved this position, or explaining to my co-worker how I changed my hair again, or being told by customers, by staff, by supervisors, by you, that I didn’t sound black on the phone. And did I mention that the police killed one of us again? They said this one had a troubled past, so that justified the eight, nine, twenty bullets. I didn’t know him but I feel like I just lost another part of me. If they keep this up there will be no parts of me left. Did you hear? Trump won. I need to stay home today and try to re-bandage this broken heart. Even though I know I’ll have to do it again. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and again, tomorrow.” And with the least bit of care in their voice, your boss will respond with “sorry to hear, but we’re really understaffed today. Could you just put your race card back in your wallet for now.”
There was one thing in particular that resonated with me from the event. The keynote speaker, Maroon, talked about how much black folks hold in on a daily basis in order to refrain from literally going off on white people. She talked about how stressful it is and how hard it becomes to carry such heavy weight on our shoulders. Do you understand how exhausting it is to clench our jaws so hard each day that we come home with teeth marks on the insides of our cheeks? Do you know how heavy our tongues begin to feel after holding them for so long? Do you know that we are slowly dying inside in order to restrain ourselves from harming you? Do you know that I close my eyes and squirm in my seat when we are passengers to one another in the car and a song on your radio says “nigga” and so do you. Because it’s “just a song” and I’m “just another angry black bitch.”
It isn’t my job to teach you about racism. You have no excuse to be “colour blind” or have no understanding of what racism is or the fact that it is still alive and well. I don’t expect you to be experts on race and racism, but it’s definitely not up to oppressed people to have to educate the oppressors. Read a book. Do a Google search. Watch a documentary. Turn on the fucking news. Racism isn’t just racialized peoples problem, especially since we aren’t the ones enforcing it upon ourselves. On top of being workers and students and parents and friends and the hundreds of other things that we are, we have to be constant educators too? We have to be walking dictionaries to help you when you don’t know the right thing to say? We have to be living history books that- unlike the ones in schools- actually store factual information to correct you when you do racist shit?
This is what I think white folks often forget or don’t realize in the first place; that being black is a constant burden. I am always tired. I’m tired of dodging every person who tries to pet my hair or ask me if it’s real. I’m tired of walking down school hallways, or the grocery store, or the mall and hearing white people defend Trump. I’m tired of white people asking me what I think about Sandra Bland, or Eric Garner, Or Mike Brown, and always responding with “if they just did what the police said, they would’ve been fine.” I’m tired of having to remind you that it isn’t okay to call me an “Oreo.” I’m tired of telling you that I’m just being me, I’m not “acting white.” I’m tired of trying to justify my existence to you. And I’m tired of you thinking I have to.
We have died a million times. Every day, little by little. Resurrecting each morning knowing that we won’t make it out alive from today. Obvious racism or subtle racism, it's still racism. Fast and gruesome death, or slow and quiet death, we're still dying. Take your microaggressions somewhere else.
Racism isn't always obvious. Many often assume that hate crimes and racial slurs are the only ways that racism exists, which isn't true. Racism is often recognized in systemic treatment and microagressions. This means that racialized people are affected by racism regularly whether white people are consciously meaning to inflict it upon us or not. This is seen in racial jokes, hair touching without permission, and saying things like "no, but where are you really from?"
Microaggressions are so deeply rooted into societies that they can seem nearly impossible to escape. So here are 10 things that you might've forgot, or not realized are racist:
1) Always having to identify someone by their race but not doing the same for white people
Referring to racialized people as "that Black guy" or "that Asian chick" or any other variation of the phrase.
2) The N word
Saying the N word AT ALL. Even if it slipped out. Even if it was in a song. Even if you used the "a" version instead of the "er" version.
3) Racial preferences
"I'd never date a (insert racialized group here) person. I'm just not attracted to them."
4) Always reverting to fear
Acting terrified when you see people that aren't white.
5) Ignorant Assumptions
Assuming that all of someone's interests revolve around their own ethnic culture, and can't relate to you.
Tokenizing your non-white friends for your advantage.
7) Blaming everything on affirmative action
Telling someone they're the "diversity hire" just because you didn't get the job and are angry, so you assume that they were hired out of pity when in reality they were just more qualified than you.
8) Normalizing racial slurs
Getting angry and murmuring racial slurs. Even if you didn't mean to direct it at a specific person, it's still concerning that those are the words that come to mind when you're mad. I used to hangout with someone (a white someone) who would scream "nigger" when she got road rage. I had to shut that down real quick.
9) No, we aren't "acting white"
Using terms like "oreo" "apple" or "banana" to describe your racialized friends who you think are too good to actually be racialized, so you convince yourself that they're just like you on the inside. Because in your mind it's not acceptable to be intelligent, and unique, and not white, all at the same time.
10) Why you mad?
Getting defensive when people of colour call you out on racist shit.