‘When we tell you how we feel, don’t just listen to respond. Listen to understand.’
Are you helping more than you’re hurting?
Ally(-ies) / noun (pl.) / A person who associates or cooperates with another; supporter.
I’m an activist, and my main platform is Twitter, so I am constantly trying to help people be better to one another in whatever ways I can.
Recently, some of my followers asked me an important question: What makes a “good” ally?
Good intentions? Solidarity? No one truly has the perfect answer, but after a good hour or so, I came up with a basic set of guidelines. Here they are:
1. Don’t divert the conversation.
Am I telling you that you’re not allowed to ask about other problems? Are you supposed to care about black people’s struggles and only those struggles? Of course not!
What I’m saying is that, when talking about one problem, your answer shouldn’t be to ask about another. You wouldn’t go to breast cancer rallies asking, “What about brain cancer?” so please don’t do it about black lives.
2. Amplify us.
This has always been a problem with the ally-ship of the black community. It seems as though non-black people can never tell the difference between using their status to amplify our voices and speaking for or over us.
I’m gonna be honest: We don’t need you to pretend to know our struggle because we know you don’t. Non-black people will never experience America like black people will, and that is just something you will have to accept. But we do need you to amplify our stories, to give us platforms to speak.
3. Please stop using black pain for attention.
There have been many instances in which non-black people have used our anguish for attention. This is also known as “black pain porn.” It’s a tactic news outlets occasionally use when you see the overrepresentation of black people in tragedy, but it pushes the agenda that we are somehow always in turmoil.
4. If you know you have black followers on social media, be cautious of the stuff you share.
Exposure is so important in times like these when we can watch the death of black bodies like home movies anywhere, anytime. This has brought to light so many injustices, but it has also desensitized us.
But consider how traumatizing it is to see people who look like you being murdered in the street, their bodies left to rot in the sweltering heat, glamorized and projected everywhere you look. Knowing that someone was killed for just looking the way you do and that their killer will likely receive no repercussions does something unexplainable to your psyche. So, when we ask you not to post anymore videos of black bodies dying, please respect that.
5. Join organizations that help us. Black Lives Matter isn’t the only source of support.
Listen, not all of us are big fans of the Black Lives Matter organization, but that’s not an excuse to not participate in our liberation at all. It is also not every black activist’s job to point you in the right direction. The internet is an amazing source of information — look up ways to get involved in your community.
6. When we tell you how we feel, don’t just listen to respond. Listen to understand.
Communication is important when it comes to social justice — but know the time and place for it. A perfect example is when we riot. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”
A riot is a symptom of extreme systemic problems. So hear us out. Don’t listen to my concerns to disregard them. Don’t listen to me to prove your own point. You may not understand or agree with what I experience, but that doesn’t give you the right to invalidate my feelings. You don’t have to condone our response to injustice to understand it.
7. Talk to your family and friends.
If you know your surroundings are anti-black, try to fix that. Defend us when we’re not there to do it ourselves.
You’re no help to me if you’re only an ally to my face, but silent behind closed doors. All of this starts from within. Use your privilege to nip any injustice in the bud. Actions will always speak louder than words.
8. Check up on us. Our mental health is almost always overshadowed.
In the chaos that comes with movements and liberation, mental health is often pushed to the side for the sake of reaction. In fact, mental health has always been a taboo subject in the black community, so I can see how you might forget to ask, “Are you OK?”
However, it’s not fair for us to be subjected to this hate and injustice and still be expected to come out of it unscathed. Some might say, “Well, I don’t need anyone to check up on me. I’m not weak.” But that’s not the point at all, is it? It is not weak to have people care about your well-being. You’d be cheating yourself if you kept yourself from that. So ask, please ask: How are you?
Non-black allies, you don’t have to move mountains or give speeches.
But you can be considerate. You can listen. You can ask. You can act. You can refuse to be silent. We don’t get the luxury of ignorance. Neither should you.
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