Friday, June 5, 2020

No Excuses, No Shame. Start Being an Ally Today.

I haven't posted about the massive Black Lives Matter movement sweeping across my country before now. That was on purpose. See, while I don't exactly identify as white (I'm mixed race white/Asian), I  know I am white in the context of this movement. So, I've been doing what Black leaders have asked of us. I've been watching, reading, learning, and - when I can - acting in a support role to help black-led activities. What I haven't done is written about how to take action against racism in America. This changes today.

I admit I've had a tendency to think I should let others who regularly work in the anti-racism area do the talking. I don't feel as educated or eloquent on race issues as I am about nutrition or housing.
I was thinking, "It's not my area"..but it is.
Centuries of unaddressed structural and systemic racism are the same forces of oppression that drive poverty in America and other countries. Racism and poverty are inextricably linked. So, I should do the same thing I always do: help get people into action by removing mental barriers that keep people from acting. Please know that I'm writing to fellow white people in this post from here on in.

Set aside shame

Here, I'm talking directly to white people with eyes newly opened to the realities of how Black Americans have suffered at the hands of our own law enforcement. Maybe you think things like, "I just didn't know" or "I had no idea it was that bad." Then, maybe you get embarrassed to realize that Black communities have been telling us for years and we just didn't listen. That embarrassment and shame can keep us from having the confidence to enter the movement. So, I'm telling you now...

Get over it.

Wallowing in the past doesn't make anything better. This is a case of "Do the best you can and when you know better, do better." You're here now. Let's get to work. If you move forward with a humble heart of service and an attitude of wanting to learn, you will help to make change.

The opposite of racist isn't "not racist." It's "anti-racist." It's not enough to sit back and say, "Well, I didn't do anything racist to anyone." Being silent and maintaining the status quo is keeping systemic racism in place. We have to get over ourselves and actually take actions to oppose racist policies whether it be educating others, protesting, promoting fairer policies about community policing and housing, or electing people who will enact those policies.

Do your homework

We can jumpstart ourselves into the "knowing better" part by doing a bit of homework before unintentionally doing or saying things that will hurt others. Robin DiAngelo, author of "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism," states that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. Find out what she means by that before you go out and do damage yourself.

Anti-racism work is hard. It's charged with feelings. Chances are that when you engage in it for the first, second, or third time, you'll probably stick your foot in your mouth and hurt others' feelings without meaning to. It's likely your own feelings will get hurt, too. But you can lessen those missteps by doing some upfront homework yourself.

And do your homework WITHOUT asking your Black friends for help. Laura Cathcart Robins, a Black podcaster and free-lance writer says, "Don't call or text me and ask me what to read or how to support me. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm exhausted and depleted; I'm put-a-fork-in-me-done with all that - please figure it out among yourselves."

There have never been more resources available about anti-oppression and racism. Books on the subject are in such demand that they're back-ordered at most bookstores. But I've heard many places are making them available for FREE on kindle and audiobooks. "White Fragility," "Me and White Supremacy," and "How to Be an Anti-Racist" are a few good titles to start with.

There are also no shortage of online articles to read online. Here are a few I recommend:

Black Lives Matter has also put this very long list together. It's pretty comprehensive and I have not read most of them!

But don't take too long doing the reading! "Antiracism is about doing and not just knowing," says Leslie Mac, an activist and a community organizer. Do your reading and keep doing it. Learning is a lifetime activity.

Do something...right now!

If you've been frozen thinking, "I don't know how to help," let's get over that hurdle. It might seem like the only way to help is by attending a protest, but that isn't true. Black Lives Matter has put out a list of literally hundreds of ways to help:

Of course, if you want to attend a protest, you certainly should! (remember to wear a face-mask and stand away from people to not spread the COVID-19 virus) Yet in the interest of overcoming barriers for people who can't or won't protest for whatever reason (and COVID-19 is definitely a reason), here is an incomplete list of other things you can do. There are so many ways to plug into the movement, that there are no more excuses to sit on the sidelines doing nothing.

  • Donate to a bail fund to release peaceful, organized protestors from jail
  • Donate to a victim's family
  • Work to elect local and federal candidates who stand for anti-racist policies by donating, phone-banking, or dropping off literature at doors.
  • Host a zoom book discussion about racism to educate your white friends
  • Call and write to your U.S. Senators. We can ask our U.S. Senators to sign onto the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 introduced by Senators Harris and Booker. The bill would ban the use of choke holds, establish a federal registry of misconduct complaints, make it easier for victims of police violence to recover damages by restricting the "qualified immunity" defense, collect data on use of force, and give the Justice Department more authority to investigate abuses by police departments. 
  •  Call and write to your U.S. Representatives. We can ask them to sign onto H.R. 7120: Justice in Policing Act of 2020 and the  H.R. 5777: Police Accountability Act of 2020
  • Sign online petitions
  • Back up your friends with supportive comments when you see them having tough conversations with friends/family about racism on Facebook
  • Join an advocacy group like RESULTS that has a clear anti-oppression mission. Learn to advocate for policies that will disrupt systemic racism (they just so happen to have an online conference this month!)
  • Write a blog post
  • Collect supplies to help keep protesters safe from COVID-19 and tear gas (You must coordinate with protest organizers to get them where they are needed. Joining a Black Lives Matter support Facebook group for your city is a good way to find them)
One last word about taking action..don't be a performance activist. If you go to a protest, document the action, but don't be posting selfies. Be present and helpful. You should share actions when they make sense and you are inviting others to join you, but you don't have to post screen shots of your donations. Just do the work humbly and follow the directives of Black leaders with grace and humility. This is what is required of us right now. 

Good luck on your journey. I'm gonna need it with mine!