What does that entail?
There is a big problem in the battle with racism that goes largely unsaid. At least, largely unheard. There is a large group of non-People of Colour (POC) that want to help, but frankly just don’t know how. Well, frankly, that excuse just cannot fly anymore. A simple google search of “how to be an ally” will answer many of these questions for you.
Willful ignorance can no longer be an excuse. We largely forget, comfortable in our homes and in our privilege, that it is us White people that set the racist precedent. Why should it be solely up to the marginalized groups to fight for their basic rights when we are the ones that put these rights in jeopardy in the first place?
It is critical that we acknowledge our position of power in this fight. Anyone with the most foundational bit of empathy should understand why we all have a horse in this race. This isn’t about being anti-Black or anti-White anymore. It’s about being anti-love and anti-hate. If you’re anti-hate, as I’d hope any reader would be, it is time to accept the responsibilities that come with this stance.
Now that it’s established why your role as an ally is important, let’s talk about what that entails exactly.
For one, and at the bare minimum, learn about the history of this issue. From Truro to Dartmouth to Yarmouth, racism is rampant today in Nova Scotia alone let alone Canada. This is not just an American problem. We may have been historically helpful in some way, i.e. the Underground Freedom Train, but it is naïve to believe that we don’t have our own racially-charged history.
This encompasses not only the explicit racism, but the implicit. For example, environmental racism. African-Canadian (along with First Nation and just generally low socio-economic status) communities are disproportionately placed near garbage dumps and toxic waste disposals. This is a form of systemic racism that is not given much time at the podium. Just because everyone is allowed to drink from the same water fountains on campus does not mean that there is no problem. Racial inequity is seen in our criminal justice system, in the landscape of our communities and in our dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, another way of being a good ally is adopting a helpful narrative. You don’t need to be completely innocent for your life to matter. You don’t need to be a straight A’s student that has never run into any problems with the law. Black lives matter. Human life matters. It’s easy to adopt the “he was a good kid” narrative when a tragedy happens, but that encourages the notion that he needed to be a good kid for his life to matter. Racism does not only manifest in action where none needs to be taken, but also in greatly exaggerated responsive action. Stealing a pack of cigarettes just simply does not merit being shot in the street. Oppression shines its light strongest through the ways in which we talk about tragedies. We should not be using a narrative that is constantly justifying why POC deserve to live. That part should be obvious. Our narrative should be condemning these actions, regardless of whether the victim “was a good kid.”
At times, I find for myself that it can be hard to speak out when we hear the fruits of prejudice in action. Isn’t there more we can do besides learn about the issue and talk about it in the right way? Of course. When you see clearly racist things happening before your eyes, you are in a position to say something. It’s not the popular thing to do. It’s not even necessarily the easy thing to do. But think about the fact that even the smallest of transgressions can reinforce subconscious affirmations and prejudices. Don’t get violent, that hurts more than it helps. But don’t be complicit. Say something. Staying silent is the polite racist way of saying “yeah, what’s going on right now is fine.” It’s not fine.
Furthermore, you can be more active than just reactive. Look to the racialized history of your own community, and get involved to see where and how you can help make some distinct moves in a positive direction. Support leaders of colour in your communities. We do not have to wait for tragedies and huge protests to make a positive influence in the racially-charged landscape.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to say “well, I’m white so this isn’t really my fight or my place.” It’s especially your place. We built the frame for racism, and we should be just as active in tearing it down.