Ivirlei Brookes had spent the better part of a week trying to educate the non-BIPOC people in her community about how to be an ally, and she was exhausted. Instead of pressing on with another individual conversation, she opened Instagram and filmed a 12 minute IGLive titled “White Women Who Truly Want to Help: Here’s How.”
In the seven days since she posted it, the clip has garnered almost 6 million views. I had the chance to speak with Brookes about why this video is so important, and why she wanted to speak directly to white women about the work that goes into anti-racism.
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I’ve gotten a ton of messages from women who have decided they want to stand up and be allies. I’m hoping this video brings some clarity on how to do that. 🙏🏾 This was hard to film. As passionate as I am about sharing to create change and connecting, I had very little bandwidth today. But I know that these conversations are urgent. Send it to your friends if you are having trouble articulating. As black women, it is not our job to educate and carry the weight of anyone else’s guilt. Our load is full. It’s up to you to stand up become the go-to amongst your friends. No more fear of using your voice and truly leading!! This is where things change.✊🏾 #justiceforgeorgefloyd #ourlivesmatter #melanatedvoices #melanatedvoicesmustbeheard
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The title of your video is “White Women who Truly Want to Help: Here’s how.” Why did you want to speak directly to white women?
When I went on Instagram Live, I was speaking to my audience, which includes a lot of white women—I had no idea I was going to be talking to millions of people. But I decided to make it because as everything was happening, so many of my black friends and I were all just exhausted from having to argue with people who didn’t understand. I saw so much yelling and fighting, which was energetically draining, and I wanted to create a tool for black people to use when they wanted to say something but didn’t have the energy. Because it could be someone you care about asking you to explain—not just some racist troll on Facebook—and you don’t want to be like, ‘Look, I’m running on empty, leave me alone.’ I created it thinking it could be a tool, but it ended up being something that empowered white women, too.
Since you posted the video last week, millions of people have watched it. Why do you think this particular clip has resonated so widely?
I’m empowering white people to do something rather than guilting them about it. And rather than shouting—though believe me, we have reason to shout and white people as a whole deserve to hear it—it’s honest. In the effort to communicate, you can’t shout. No matter if you’re Black, white, or green, none of us respond to that. I think the reason why it’s resonated is because instead of telling someone that they’re wrong and should get out, it says, “You’re wrong, but here are the tools, the space, and the power to change it.”
In the video, you discuss the importance of non-BIPOCs using their platform to have uncomfortable conversations about race, even if that “platform” only extends to their brunch table. Why is that such a significant part of propelling this movement forward?
People listen to other people they trust. It’s one thing to hear about something on the news, or watch protests on television, or get your your information from out in the world. There’s something really, really powerful about the power of having hard conversations with people you love, with honesty and patience, and I feel like that’s where change has to happen. I don’t believe that it’s screaming and yelling and guilting people to death is going to do it. It’s important to talk to the people you trust because you have their ear.
Right now, it feels like people—including many white women—have been “awoken” to the issues facing the Black community and want to help, but might not actually be helping in the best way. Are there certain things that people are doing right now that you find particularly frustrating?
First of all, being inauthentic and hurrying to say something because you don’t want to look silent. If you haven’t truly processed what’s going on and haven’t truly committed to doing something about it, that’s not honest and everybody can feel that—and that’s gross. The other thing is demanding information out of black people, because begging for information Is yet another demand on their energy. It’s hard for you to learn without asking, but it’s delicate and difficult, and it’s not our job to become teachers of things that are hurting us in this moment.
As you mentioned, it is not the Black community’s job to educate anyone people about racism. So if people do have questions and want to learn, what is the best way for them to learn?
I don’t want to say, ‘go figure it out,’ but literally if you just do a quick Internet search, you’ll find some of the most profound, beautiful Black women talking about what you might be curious about. Independent research is important. And if you do have Black friends that you want to talk to, ask them if they’re open to it before dumping your questions and your guilt onto the people you care about who are Black. Be invited to those conversations—ask before you ask.
For white women who think of themselves as feminists, what are the non-negotiable things they need to be doing from here forward to better include Black women in the movement?
Commit to actually being a real ally, and speak up for us when we’re not in the room. But also create space for us in those rooms, and give us seats at the table. There is a sisterhood element to it, and if we were your actual sisters, you wouldn’t stand for that. Protect Black women when there aren’t any in the room—that’s powerful in any movement, whether it’s feminism or something else.
It’s clear that this moment is—hopefully—a turning point. But as we look past this moment, to a month, a year, and even five years down the line, what should that look like as far as allyship goes?
The world is on fire right now, but it will be necessary to go back to some sense of balance. But within that balance, in whatever this new reality looks like, things will need to look different. Within companies and brands, I really hope it creates new policies amongst teams. I hope that what’s happening isn’t just a temporary crisis PR response because that is the opposite of what all of this is for. Instead of just slapping a Black face on a flyer or a stock photo on your website, have the intention to have honest, authentic inclusion.
On an individual level, everyone has a different super power. Yours might not be making videos like I did, but it may be connecting people, or gathering funds. Whatever your superpower is, use that. I don’t want anyone to think that they have to force themselves to take on a role that doesn’t belong to them, and it’s important to understand that all of us have roles. If you’re a writer, write for this. Feel empowered with what you already know how to do, and use that as your tool to make change.
This interview took place on June 5, 2020; it has been edited for length and clarity.
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