How to Be an Ally in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

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For nearly nine minutes, Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, while three fellow police officers who assisted in the arrest stood by and watched. Floyd was slowly, torturously murdered in broad daylight, and it was all caught on video. The murder heard ‘round the world galvanized action immediately, starting with protests in Floyd’s resident city of Minneapolis. 

Six days later, and there are protests in all 50 of the States, marking perhaps the first time every state has actually been united on a single cause. Thousands of protesters standing in support of the Black Lives Matter movement also swept the streets in Paris, London, Berlin, Binnish, Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Dublin, Mexico City, Auckland, Christchurch, Perth, Toronto, and Vancouver. 

As Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Not only were these worldwide demonstrations held in solidarity with America’s efforts to dismantle police brutality against its black population, but they were also held in support of people of color in each city. Racism is globally pervasive; it leaves no minority life untouched. 

Leadership in many countries have deployed police – kitted out in tactical military gear and armed with tanks, rubber bullets, tear gas, and batons – to meet the protesters head on. When the President of the United States emerged from hiding in a bunker and crossed the street to pose for a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church, an order was given to Attorney General William Barr to disperse the peaceful protesters who were nearby. Brute force and tear gas were used to scatter the peaceful assembly, many of whom were clergy from the very church the President posed in front of. It makes zero sense to send the aggressors in the crisis to handle the crisis, and as you might suspect, the police have used every opportunity to suppress the uprising, violently. 

As the world watches, millions have been spurred to action, whether by marching in the streets, supporting black businesses, donating to bail funds, or signal-boosting vital Black Lives Matters messages. Watching things unfold from afar through remote screens has left many feeling helpless. In the UAE, where we tend to live more privileged lives, confronting a world in pain can be a difficult reality to face.

However, it is of the utmost importance to check your privilege at this time and band together with the rest of the world in order to enact long-term change. Presenting a unified front, working together, and dismantling racism is not only a destiny that we are all called upon to embrace, but it is long, long overdue. 

No matter your background, your main objective is to be an ally. While the fight might not belong to you directly, as an ally you must step up to assist alongside, and persevere against wrongdoing. Instead of shrugging your shoulders and saying ‘there’s nothing I can do’, ‘the protests are happening in other countries to other people’, or ‘it doesn’t really affect me’, you can choose at this moment to do something about global systemic racism. 

This feature is published in a Dubai-based, Middle East publication. Our region has its own issues of racism, so allyship in the traditional sense might not feel like it applies to you, your situation, or your environment. But all people of color from all walks of life need allies. While we are addressing the primary need for the white majority to be allies to the black minority, and steps will be constructed along those lines, they are still cross-applicable to this region’s systemic discrimination against people of color. 

Here are some positive steps you can make today to create change in your own life and in your global community.

Acknowledge

If you are white or white-passing, the truth is, you simply do not know what it is like to live as a person of color. You are enshrouded in a protective cloak of privilege. Black people have been killed by the police while jogging down their streets and sleeping in their beds. They see black death every time they turn on the news. For centuries they have been marginalized, criminalized, exploited. Living in black skin is to confront a daily threat to your mortality.

That will never happen to you.

The first and most vital step in becoming an effective ally is learning how to acknowledge your privilege. Privilege is most often associated with whiteness, but it also relates to other qualities held by the power majority, including gender, wealth, class, education, religion, and ability. One way to examine your privilege is to deeply consider how your privilege has benefited you in ways both large and small, and how people without the same privilege live without the same advantages. This must-watch experiment offers a clear-eyed look at the benefits of privilege.

How to Be an Ally in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Speak

Speak to your black friends about their experiences, and learn what it’s like to live in their skin. Understand that you will never understand, but choose to stand with them regardless. Reach out to them, but also know that they might not feel fully ready or able to express their true feelings in a space that doesn’t feel safe for them.

After a lifetime spent witnessing and experiencing racial trauma, this moment in history could trigger PTSD reactions. Be prepared for that and be sensitive to it. Remember, the bottom line is, this is not about you. Resist the temptation to tell them how you feel about the protests. Simply let them know that you are there to listen, and give support.

It is also of incredible importance not to share videos of violence against black people on social media without a warning. Start a conscious practice of pre-labeling the videos you share with “trigger warning”, so that your black friends can choose to click away and not be exposed to an event that might harm their mental health.

Additionally, you should be ready to speak out against social injustices and racism within your own families and friend groups. By following the steps below to educate yourself, you extend your knowledge to others who may not share the same beliefs. Ask your family to speak with you openly about their feelings, and address misinformation wherever you find it. It is a hard and painful road, but radical change can occur in your local community when you are willing to confront racism head-on.

Educate

You cannot truly be an ally without educating yourself on racism. Racism isn’t always visible or easily recognized. From learning real-life accounts of black experiences to discovering the historical events that contribute to systemic racism, education is your most valuable tool for fighting against bigotry and discrimination.

Podcasts are a great way to listen to the dialogue going on in the black community, and get a direct source of information. Some of our favorite black podcasts include: Higher Learning, Hoodrat to HeadwrapIntersectionality Matters with Kimberlé Crenshaw, 1619, and Code Switch.

Additionally, there are sites that contain lists of free books; however, we also advocate for spending the money to buy these tools, thereby giving back to the black authors who wrote them. If your financial resources are limited, this Google Drive contains dozens of educational works for free, in PDF format.

Act

When you position yourself as an ally to a minority group in crisis, actions speak louder than words. One of the most beneficial ways you can contribute right now is to support black businesses. There are hundreds of black-owned fashion and beauty companies that could use your patronage.

Black-owned fashion companies:

A A K SA-Cold-WallAgnes Baddoo,  ALIÉTTE, Ama NwokeAndrea IyamahBrett JohnsonBrother Vellies, Byron Lars Beauty MarkCasely-HayfordCD GreeneChristopher John RogersCushnieDiarrabluDur DouxDuro OlowuEdasFaded NYCFe NoelGlemaudHanifaIAMISIGOJoe Fresh GoodsJohnny NelsonKahindoKahmuneKHIRY, Kintu New YorkKkereléLaQuan SmithLaurusLavieByCklemlemLisa FolawiyoLisouthe Lotte, Masura Studios, Mateo New YorkMaxhosa AfricaMcMullenMenyelekMikhel AlexanderMille CollinesNubian Skinoff-whiteOrange Culture NigeriaPhlemunsPiper WaiPublic SchoolPyer MossRadswanSammy BSergio HudsonSheila RashidSincerely TommySindiso KhumaloStella JeanTabii JustTelfarThebe MaguguThird Crown, Thula SindiTianna Barnes, TimabeeTongoroTracy ReeseWales Bonner, William OkpoWow Sancho.

Black-owned beauty companies:

Beauty Bakerie, Blk+GrnBriogeoCarol’s DaughterFenty BeautyKa’ili SkincareLIHA BeautyMarie Hunter BeautyMented CosmeticsMischo BeautyOui the PeoplePat McGrath Labs, Uoma Beauty.

Imaan Hamman Fenty campaign
Photo: Courtesy of @Fenty

Advocate

You can also use your position of privilege to be an ally in the workplace. Urge hiring managers at your company to diversify the staff, advocate for people of color in the workplace, and call out unfair and discriminatory practices, while alerting HR to such violations. 

Furthermore, you can volunteer your time and donate your money to causes that support black lives. With ongoing protests, here are some of the non-profit organizations that are in need of help:

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