Ten Tips for Black Lives Matter Allies
By Shanice Brim | Photo by S K
It feels like Black America has never been given a moment of rest. From the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the Black Codes and the Reconstruction Era. Then on to Jim Crow. Next, the unrest that sparked the Black Power movement. Then the War on Drugs which has devastated Black America and gave birth to the prison industrial complex. Onward to the various uprisings sparked by police brutality in the 80s and 90s. And now we arrive to today and the various murders that have sparked the Black Lives Matter Movement. Exhausted? So am I. Terrified? Me too. It seems that Black Americans have been on the run since we set foot in this country. Over the years, there have been Non Black people who’ve tried to help. Sometimes, though, that help isn’t so helpful so I’m here to help you help us. I’m also here to give Black people something they can bookmark, then copy and paste when they are too exhausted to keep explaining things. Here are 10 ways to help the movement:
1. Check Your Ego At The Door.
Care about racial justice? Or any kind of justice? Prepare to have just about everything you’ve been raised to believe called into question. Prepare to be uncomfortable. Everything you’ve been indoctrinated to hold as self-evident truths will be challenged and, in a lot of cases, totally upended. Unlearning is hard. It’s a very strange, painful, and infuriating thing to learn that the world is not the place you thought it was. And that your place in it is well. . . complicated. The thing about oppressive systems is. . . they depend on that. They need that defensiveness you feel when someone corrects you or calls you out. They need you to be uncomfortable with the truth. However, I promise that if you just open your heart and allow yourself to listen and learn. Allow yourself to have uncomfortable conversations. You will come out a better and more understanding person. You will learn something and isn’t that what life is all about? Learning and growing? The world is ugly and so is history but if you face it you will move past fear and toward action and compassion.
2. Read up!
As I mentioned above, sometimes being Black is exhausting. You wake up to a new crisis and its accompanying hashtag almost every morning. You open your laptop or log onto Twitter to see some Black soul being slung around like a rag doll and you think for a second, “That could’ve been me. That could’ve been my mother. That could’ve been my. . . “ You’re walking down the street and a police car passes by. You’ve done nothing wrong but your body has a very visceral reaction to the mere sight of this patrol car. It passes by, you push your discomfort/fear aside, and continue with your day. You’re at a party and someone reaches out to pet your hair like you’re a zoo animal. You’re at work and someone makes an off-kilter joke or comment. You wonder if your job is worth the energy it is taking you to not set this person straight. The Black mind is a very occupied one. This is why it is exhausting when Non Black people treat us like their own personal Black Experience Encyclopedias. When they expect us to educate them and explain our existence and issues to them. I’m not saying you can never ask Black people anything. But I am saying that libraries, websites, and bookstores (online or otherwise) are full of Black scholarship. There is an entire field of study based around racial consciousness. There are plenty of sites that have been keeping up with the movement. I promise if you use Google you will find information. Unless you are paying, please do not use Black people as your very own race theory professors. We are tired of having to constantly explain to people why we are are upset, the history behind our fear and anger, and why our brothers and sisters do not deserve to be accosted by police and vigilantes.
3. Check Your Facts!
That being said, there’s nothing I hate more than hearing about Willie Lynch’s mythical letter. I am of the opinion that spreading misinformation (and no, I don’t care, if it “contains some truth”) is dangerous. I can assure you that Black existence and Black history is both beautiful enough and terrifying enough without us spinning our wheels and wasting our breath on lies. One, it distracts us from the truth, which is always stranger and more harrowing than the fiction. If you’re too busy pouring over baseless conspiracy theories then you aren’t reading the actual history books, essays, and articles. And you aren’t keeping up with what is actually happening and the actual history behind it. You are not doing real research. Two, it compromises your credibility. People are working around the clock to discredit the movement and to discredit as much of Black history as they can. We don’t need to spread misinformation to help them. Misinformation, again, is dangerous. To base your action and theory on empty rhetoric and lies is dangerous. It is very easy to steer your ship in the wrong direction if you are following the wrong map. You can not defeat the beast if you do not understand it. This is not just theory. These are not just books. These are not just words on a screen. People’s lives and futures are at the heart of all this. Check your facts. Check them again. Check your sources. Check them again.
Now that you’ve begun the very difficult work of educating yourself, remember that you can read as many books as you want but books are not experience. Obviously, you should read the books but don’t think they make you an expert on Blackness. Black people have experienced being Black their whole lives. When Black people are talking about their experiences, do not speak over them and certainly do not tell them they are wrong about their lives. Nothing is more irritating to me than a Non-Black person telling me I have my experience all wrong. If a Black person is telling you that you are doing or saying something that is harmful to Black people listen to them and figure out what you need to do to correct your behavior.
5. Don’t “Sunshine and Rainbows” Us.
A favorite derailing tactic among Non Black people is to shut conversations about Anti-Blackness down by feigning solidarity. We are aware that we are “all the human race” but there are some groups of the human race who are being treated unfairly and other groups of the human race who benefit from that mistreatment. So, you know, there’s that.
6. Don’t Assume that Because You are a Non Black Person of Color That You Don’t Contribute to or Benefit from Anti-Blackness.
Black people are aware of the fact that you, too, experience oppression. That does not change the fact that every group of people of color have some horrible, nasty word reserved for Black folks. Oh, yes. We are aware of the fact that there is, indeed, a version of the N word in pretty much every language. We are aware of the fact that Non Black people of color have some very unsavory ideas and opinions about Black people and that those ideas benefit you. As Jack Linshi said in Time Magazine, Non Black people of color ‘assume the benefits of non Blackness and the burdens on non whiteness.’ It’s a troubling thought but it’s one we have to face in order to reach solidarity. True solidarity will never be reached until anti-Blackness in communities of color is not only addressed but actively worked on.
7. Call People Out.
Look, I totally get it. Calling people out is terrifying. Even I’m not always brave enough to do it. Sometimes, I simply don’t have the mental and emotional energy to do it. That’s why we need your help. As Non Black people you have the ability to call out anti-Blackness without the added trauma of having to defend your humanity to someone. Trust me, I know that it’s infuriating and sometimes even chilling to converse with someone who does not have the same regard for Black life that you do. But if you think you’re enraged just imagine how we feel when we have to do it. You might be angry while interacting with a member of the “All Lives Matter” brigade but it is so disheartening when it’s your actual life and safety that’s being discussed so coldly and inhumanely. Plus, a person who just does not see it for Black people is automatically going to be in attack mode when talking to an actual Black person. Black people can not be everywhere. If you are with a group of Non Black folks and someone says or does something anti-Black point it out. Do something to acknowledge that something very uncool just happened. Please, tell this person about themselves and then, when you feel they’re open to learning more, direct them to a Black resource (a book written by a Black person, a helpful YouTube video by a Black person, etc.)
8. Support Black Owned Businesses.
Put your money where your mouth is. If you’re going to rep the movement then the merch you’re wearing should be coming from a Black Owned Business especially if they are donating portions of the proceeds towards the movement.
9. Please visit joincampaignzero.org and wetheprotestors.org.
These sites are run by people who were among the first people on the ground in Ferguson. They’ve developed a 10 point plan to help end police brutality. They also have “Campaign tracking document” that helps you keep track of the 2016 Presidential candidates stances on their 10 point platform. You should also follow the creators on Twitter. They are very knowledgeable about social justice and about the situation. Find out where a protest is near you. These sites have information about actions near you as does handsupunited.org.
10. Recognize That You Will Never Stop Learning and Messing Up.
As I acknowledged in the beginning, unlearning is hard. Not only is it uncomfortable and scary to start looking at the world with new eyes. . . it’s never ending. Because you are not Black you will never know what it’s like to be Black. Because you will never know, you will always be learning something new about anti-Blackness which always seems to have a new way of manifesting itself. You will always have moments where you mess up and have to apologize. As you learn maybe those moments will come few and far between but they will still happen. And when they do, handle it with grace. Acknowledge that you did something wrong. Listen, learn, and move forward. It sounds daunting but think about it this way: this is how life works in general. Each year brings new discoveries. Each year of our lives is trial and error. When I was young I thought I would magically understand the world and how to do all the adult things by 25. Now that I am 25, I’ve finally realized that everyone's just winging it. Everyone is still learning, unlearning, and just trying their best, man. You’re never too old, well-read, or experienced to stop learning or to make mistakes. The same goes with social justice. Each year you learn something new, unlearn something bad, and just do your best to be good to other people. It’s so worth it. I would much rather work through my discomfort and be compassionate towards others than be ignorant and hurtful. It’s all worth the work.