Last month, I went on a journey into 30 days of learning with Glo from @glographics. (Follow her on Instagram! She gives daily insight on what being anti-racist really means, and what Black people go through.) Glo is a content creator, business coach and travel blogger. She has been gracious enough to spend her time and energy creating an Ally Resource Guide for those of us white people willing to do the work, and it was truly an eye opening experience. I learned so much in this short amount of time, and I’m excited to continue learning and UN learning every day.
Before I begin, please note that the information I’m providing in my own words from my learning experience is NOT a substitute for Glo’s resource guide. Glo provides in depth explanations, stories and journal prompts to assist you in your learning journey, and these are only some of the topics she discussed. Please, please, please support her in her work and don’t stop your learning experience after reading my blog! Also, if at any time I misspeak on a topic, I invite anyone to call me out on my mistakes so I may continue to learn and understand how to become a better ally. Here’s my takeaway:
Capitalize the B in Black
First things first, we must capitalize the B in Black when referring to Black people. Why? Because when we refer to Black culture, we are not just talking about their skin color, but their cultural identity, community and lifestyle. Capitalizing the B gives them their identity. So you might wonder if we should then capitalize the "w" in white. We should not. Not capitalizing white when referring to white people makes sense because we are literally only referring to our skin color, and not our culture. White culture is not a thing; American culture is.
Also I have learned that I have been wrong this entire time in thinking that saying "Black people" was offensive. Black people love being called Black. Black is beautiful. Black is their identity. It's best not to refer to Black people as African American, because most Black people can't trace their lineage to a specific country in Africa. Plus, not all Black people are African American. When we use the word African American, it makes Black people feel like this title is just another way to associate them as "other".
Black people go through so many microaggressions daily, that we make them feel invisible. Many Black women, especially, grow up hating themselves because society makes them believe they don’t have a place in this world. AND we are blind to the way they’re treated because it’s ingrained in our society. Have you ever talked to someone and felt like you didn’t exist?
We contribute to these microaggressions on a daily basis unconsciously. We must take the time to open up and understand what they go through daily, so we can become hyper aware of these microaggressions, and correct our thoughts and actions before we hurt others.
The media paints Black people in a negative light, so we can continue to form negative opinions about them. Have you ever caught yourself thinking “why are Black people so dangerous?” or “why are Black neighborhoods so bad?” Be aware of these assumptions and stereotypes, and don’t believe everything you read. Are ALL Black people dangerous? No. Just as all white people are not dangerous.
We as white people celebrate individualism. We love to claim our individuality and we all agree that no two white people are alike, therefore one white person who does harm cannot be held accountable for all white people. Yet, we look at Black people as a whole and hold one Black person accountable to represent ALL Black people. When is the last time we held a white murderer accountable to the white "race" by saying: well, if this white person is bad then ALL white people must be bad? The answer is never.
Their humanity is ALWAYS second to their Blackness. Just take a moment to let that sink in. They are judged before anyone truly gets to know them, what they do for a living, what their hobbies are, etc. This is especially true when discussing the issue of Black people being arrested or killed.
White people, especially those in power (the police, politicians, security guards at the airport, etc.) look at Black people with fear, automatically placing that stereotype on them before they get to know the person behind the skin color. There are so many arrests and killings happening for no reason at all. Black people are faced with the issue of constantly having to prove themselves and their credentials just to be seen as HUMAN. How would you feel if you had to prove you were human to all of the other humans around you?
Fear for their lives
Black people constantly carry the weight and stress of fear for their lives, and their loved ones’ lives. Each and every day they are faced with the notion that this could be the day they, or their loved ones are in danger, due to the blatant hatred towards their skin color. When is the last time you were worried about your loved one when they left to go to work? Yes, we all have certain circumstances to worry about, but not the sudden death or arrest of our loved ones due to the hatred towards our skin color.
This is extremely important to understand, because it’s very easy to tokenize someone and not realize you are doing it. Tokenism is the practice of making only a symbolic effort to represent marginalized groups or recruit a small number of people from these groups in order to give the appearance of racial equality. We can tokenize Black people even when trying to create diversity in our social media accounts, now that we realize our content is not diverse. We must dig deep to think about our intentions when doing this. If our intention is to make more space for Black people and POC, or marginalized groups in general, we must make sure our messaging is also consistent with being inclusive, AND that our actions show what we are doing to help these marginalized groups. If our intentions are simply to look inclusive on social media, then that is tokenism.
Many Black people are also tokenized as the one Black friend or co-worker that we know. Knowing them doesn’t make us any less racist, and it makes them question if these relationships are even genuine. If our definition of not being a racist is knowing or being around Black people, then we are claiming that not being a racist simply means tolerating Black people.
See the pain, not the aggression
When Black people try to speak up and stand up for themselves, anything they say or do can be used against them as being angry or difficult. We think, if they were just “polite” they would be treated better. But how many years have they faced oppression? Has being silent and peaceful done much for change?
If a white person speaks up for themselves, they are considered strong; a go-getter. But if a Black person were to do the same, they would be considered too aggressive and angry. Why? Are we really going to continue oppressing them, and not allowing them to speak up for themselves? How would you feel if society was constantly dragging you down, but you just had to stay silent? When white people try to police Black people’s tone, it’s insulting and dismissive. We must work to try to create a space for them to safely speak up and be heard. The next time a Black person speaks out about the oppression and pain they are facing, open your heart and mind and embrace this pain with understanding. Listen and learn from what they have to say, and allow it to fuel you to continue doing this difficult work in order to create change for them.
Appropriating Black culture vs. appreciating Black culture
Black people constantly face stigmas around their culture, yet we appropriate it for profit or to be trendy, and we consider it “cool” or “in fashion”. We cannot ever assume that we can use or do something in whatever way we want. We might be innocent in our intentions, but we might end up offending others unintentionally. And if we ever offend someone and they tell us so, we should be grateful that they trusted us enough to tell us, and simply apologize. We should try to gain an understanding from their perspective. A great way to appreciate other cultures without appropriating is to learn about them through travel (hopefully someday soon!) books, movies, and through real, genuine interactions.
Being a white savior vs. a white ally
There’s a difference between being a white savior and a white ally. Whether we’re volunteering in our community, traveling to Africa on a volunteer mission or simply helping to create space for Black voices to be amplified, we have to dive deep into our WHY. We cannot center ourselves and our ego in our motives. If our reasoning behind this work is to feel like a savior, to gain praise, or to LOOK and FEEL like a good person, then we are acting as white saviors, not allies. And this is not the way to go about it. Also remember...I know we are all obsessed with taking photos but when doing this work, if you want to take photos to document for any reason, do NOT center yourself. Do not take a selfie with everyone. In fact, just don’t include yourself at all. There is no need to flaunt this work on social media. When you do this, you are tokenizing the marginalized groups that you are helping. And that is the opposite of being an ally.
Creating meaningful diverse relationships
If you’re like me and have realized you don’t have a very diverse group of friends, there are ways to break the mold and branch out. This is actually the largest area within myself that I have to focus on. I come from a predominantly white small town, and moved to NYC 4 years ago. Only now, in the past few years have I truly been exposed to different cultures, and have been learning to coexist with Black people in a predominantly Black neighborhood. I have struggled with ways to connect and develop true friendships, but Glo gives some great, and very simple advice.
Start with common interests. Many Black people and POC have common interests with us. Just because they come from a different cultural background doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the same things. Try joining local groups that revolve around these interests, such as creative entrepreneur groups, workshops, yoga classes or workouts, etc. (Of course, it will have to be mostly virtual right now, but at least we know that everyone is doing this right now! There are most likely more groups to join than ever before.) It’s helpful to join communities where you might find a healthy mix of ethnicities involved.
Focus on common values and beliefs. What are your core values and beliefs? Whether it’s focusing on positivity, creativity, curiosity for knowledge, personal growth, mental health, religion, spirituality, etc. make sure you connect with those who share these same values and beliefs, and you’re bound to vibe with them.
I am so humbled to have learned so much from Glo, and I know this journey of learning has only just begun. I'm working each day to understand how to become a better ally, and I know I will make plenty of mistakes as I go. My hope is to make even the tiniest bit of difference in this world. If you're still here, thank you for joining me in the learning process! If you have made it this far, this means you're ready to do the real work towards becoming an ally. I strongly encourage you to check out @glographics on Instagram and get a feel for everything she is teaching on her platform. And if you're interested, you can get the Ally Resource Guide here.