Those are just the names we know of from the past week.
I’ve been sick to my stomach all week about the continuing tragedies that happen to black, brown and Indigenous bodies not only in America, but Canada as well. As someone who does support work with survivors of sexualized violence, I’m used to telling people their emotions matter, that their emotions are valid no matter what. The support worker in me tells myself that my feelings over this past week are valid, that it’s okay for me to feel this too. But truthfully, it’s not. I don’t get to feel this. This isn’t my pain. Sure, I can feel compassion for others and anger towards systems and individuals, but I will never know the weight of police brutality, of anti-black sentiments, of islamophobia or what it means to be an Indigenous person in a country that was built on the idea of exterminating you. Black and brown bodies are being murdered because of the systems our ancestors created, the systems we uphold, and the systems that we benefit from each and every day. We are complicit, we are at fault.
It is not up to black people and other people of color to educate us. That only further adds to their oppression and highlights the white entitlement that has created a need for movements such as Black Lives Matter in the first place. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t listen to them. Of course we should listen to them and uplift their voices whenever possible. We need to be mindful of our own voices, and include people of color in the conversations that we have about decisions that affect them. Check in with them to ensure that white allies are doing work that is actually useful for them, and work that doesn’t replicate what they are already doing. With that said, we cannot expect them to inform us of their struggles. We need to do that on our own. We are living in a time where many forms of education are free and accessible. We don’t need a university degree in racial justice to understand that we need to do better. Let’s start googling, going to our local libraries, and connecting with other white people who are involved in social justice issues.
We need to support Black Lives Matter, we need to deconstruct the racist double standard on how white crime vs. black crime is portrayed in the media. We need to demand better from our media outlets and boycott those who do not give accurate representation. We need to write our local representatives and demand for change. We need to confront the racism in our own friend groups and families. We need to hold each other accountable. Even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it hurts.
Most importantly, we need to organize. Facebook posts and hashtags are not enough. We need to organize our white communities to work harder to stop police brutality and put an end to the mass incarceration of brown and black bodies, an end to racist citizenship law, and an end to border imperialism – because this land, these resources, were not ours to begin with.
Perhaps you’re scared. Scared of saying the wrong thing, messing up and misspeaking. And to be honest, you’ll probably do just that. I sure know I have. Allyship isn’t perfect – it’s messy and confusing and I am by no means an expert on it, but we have to try. When we mess up we need to listen. Be humble and acknowledge we made a mistake. Apologize, learn from our mistakes and do better, do better, do better.
So what now? Let’s talk. Let’s go for tea, have a phone conversation or chat on skype. We can no longer sit by idle. We have to put in the work to understand and create change – real tangible change.
Further reading on how white people can work towards allyship:
Advice for White Folks in the Wake of the Police Murder of a Black Person
This is what white people can do to support #BlackLivesMatter
Your Guide on How to Support Black People After Incidents of Police Violence
Know Your (Lack of a) Role: Honoring Healing Spaces as an Ally