Stories from Political Issues

7 Ways Non-Black Pocs Can Be Better Allies

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Raquel ReichardJune 12, 2020

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The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have catapulted the nation into daily protests calling for justice, accountability, and a divestment from police and investment in Black communities. It has galvanized white people, many for the first time, into seeking educational media on racial profiling and police brutality, wrestling with how their white privilege has guarded them for centuries and resist white supremacy by declaring Black lives matter. Across websites and social media platforms, resources for how white people can be better allies to Black people have gone viral. But as news circulates that people in Latinx neighborhoods in Chicago and Manhattan have been attacking protestors, it’s evident that non-Black people of color also need the tools and resources to address and resist their own anti-Blackness and effectively show up for Black people.

“We have to make sure that we involve our communities in these conversations about unlearning anti-Blackness and that we are constantly engaging with them. It’s not just about being non-racist but about being anti-racist,” says Bhavani Bindiganavile, a member of South Asians 4 Black Lives, a group under the grassroots movement Malikah that started last year to educate their community, combat anti-Black racism, and explore South Asian identity.

In the United States, and across the world, the color of your skin affects every part of your life—housing, education, employment, health care, travel, and, of course, your experience with the police and criminal justice system. Latinxs are among the fastest-growing prison population in the country, while local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation alike continue to target, surveil, and racially profile South Asians and Arabs as domestic terrorists. But while non-Black people of color of various ethnicities and cultures face swelling instances of racism and xenophobia, they, too, have a history as perpetrators and accomplices in anti-Blackness.

The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, a part-Peruvian former neighborhood watch coordinator who killed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Seven years later, the country achingly watched then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneel on George Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as Hmong-American former officer Tou Thao stood nearby, turning a deaf ear to Floyd’s final words of not being able to breathe.

“Non-Black people of color have faced discrimination and have been on the receiving end of racial violence, but they also have privilege based on the lighter color of their skin. Both of these things can exist at the same time.” —Erica Rojas, PhD

“It’s important for non-Black people of color to acknowledge that there are two sides to this issue and that they are often on both sides. Non-Black people of color have faced discrimination and have been on the receiving end of racial violence, but they also have privilege based on the lighter color of their skin. Both of these things can exist at the same time,” says Erica Rojas, PhD, a New York-based psychologist who has been using Instagram to highlight the psychological and mental health impact of racialized trauma.

Rojas is one of the many therapists, activists, educators and creatives utilizing social media to offer non-Black people of color tools to be better allies and stamp out anti-Blackness among themselves, their families, and their communities. They acknowledge that for many doing so is a long, uncomfortable but necessary process that includes self-analyzing, education and engaging in conversations with non-Black people of color that at once validate their very real experiences with state violence and discrimination while also help them confront the ways they’ve participated and benefitted, directly and indirectly, from white supremacy. Here, Rojas, Bindiganavile, and members of the Asian American Feminist Collective (AAFC) offer non-Black people of color tools to resist anti-blackness and do the work for Black lives without centering themselves.

1. Get real with yourself

In order to tackle anti-Blackness, you have to identify the explicit and insidious ways it comes up in your life and how you perpetuate it. That means asking yourself how you contribute to the oppression of Black people and how you benefit from that oppression, being absolutely honest with yourself regardless of how uncomfortable that truth makes you feel.

“We are responsible for contributing to this violence, so we have to be responsible for unlearning and undoing that violence,” says Senti Sojwal, of AAFC.

She offers the model minority myth, the idea that Asian Americans are law-abiding, highly educated and successful communities of color, as an example of anti-Blackness.

“It’s a myth that was created to separate our communities and prevent cross-racial solidarity, but it’s also something Asian-American communities can internalize, and leads to anti-Blackness by us thinking of ourselves as separate and better than Black communities,” says Sojwal.

2. Actively engage with these anti-Black practices and ideas

It’s not enough to be aware of your complicity in anti-Blackness, you must actively work to thwart it at every level. If you grew up in a household where you were taught that afro-textured tresses are inferior to long, straight hair, ensure those racist lessons aren’t passed down to the next generation. If you overhear your grandmother telling your cousin to pour lemon juice on her face in order to lighten her skin, speak up. If a colleague feels comfortable making racist comments about someone else on your team in front of you, question why and call them out on it. If you see someone acting “suspicious,” check your impulses—are they rooted in racism?—rather than calling the police.

3. Take on the task of educating yourself

Media is powerful. Oftentimes, it is validly criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes and prejudices; however, it can and should also be used as a resource for self-education. There are countless books, videos, online articles, documentaries, podcasts, and TV series that discuss race relations, police brutality, the prison industrial complex and even guides readers on how to be anti-racist.

4. Decenter yourself and resist the urge to make comparisons

As non-Black people of color who might have also experienced or witnessed racial profiling, police violence, incarceration, poverty, housing discrimination and other instances of structural, institutionalized, and interpersonal racism, it’s easy to participate in the Struggle Olympics of which racial group suffers more under white supremacy, but Rojas says this in itself is anti-Black.

“We should not be comparing experiences by saying things like, ‘but we have this just as bad as the other’ or ‘we have this worse than the other.’ Instead, we should be identifying the ways we have experienced racism, xenophobia, and prejudice—understanding and reminding ourselves of what that feels like—and then asking if and why we have ever used the privilege that we do have in a way that is racist, xenophobic, and prejudice to others,” she says.

5. Listen and amplify Black voices

“Tackling anti-Blackness requires learning, deep listening and leveraging your privilege to amplify Black voices,” Sojwal says.

This looks like inviting Black speakers to events (and turning down opportunities on panels and at conferences that don’t include Black voices), like rejecting paid writing assignments about Blackness and referring Black journalists instead, like publishing houses and production studios actively seeking Black talent, like sharing posts from Black users on your social media platforms, or, as AAFC did during a recent joint conversation with Black Women Radicals on Instagram Live about Asian and Black feminist solidarity, creating spaces and opportunities for cross-racial conversations and collaborations.

6. Talk to your family and your community

Having conversations with relatives, friends, and community members who espouse anti-Black beliefs are undoubtedly challenging and galling, yet they are totally necessary. Bindiganavile suggests the two-fold approach of healing while teaching, where people acknowledge the violence of white supremacy in the lives of non-Black people of color and help them work on healing from this racialized trauma while also showing them how they perpetuate this prejudice, discrimination and bigotry toward Black individuals.

“We are all under the system of white supremacy, so it’s important to break down how it’s affecting us, how we use it to hurt others and how we can, instead, show up for other communities,” Bindiganavile says.

She also notes that for these conversations to be effective, they must be intentional, accessible, gentle and consistent.

“We believe that as non-Black people of color, it is on us to do the labor of being patient with our family members, having these conversations over and over and understanding that change won’t come over a day,” she says.

7. Show up in meaningful ways that make sense for you

Everyone has a different role in the struggle for racial justice and Black lives. If you want to attend a protest, use your privilege to form a human shield that blocks police officers from Black demonstrators. Not able to march? Donate water, snacks, masks, goggles, bandages and more to protesters. If you have the financial means, make a contribution to bail funds, pay a few therapy sessions for your Black friends (Rojas says race-based traumatic stress leads to serious mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, trauma and PTSD), donate to organizations fighting for Black lives every day of the year and dine and shop at Black-owned restaurants and stores. Have a talent or professional license? Use it for Black lives. Bring home-cooked meals to community meetings, offer legal advice and representation or mental health care for free, or use your graphic design and storytelling skills to amplify this struggle.

“Do what feels true and genuine to you,” Rojas says.

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