Showing empathy is not enough. Here's how white and non-Black POC can proactively work toward change.

By Gianina Thompson
Jun 02, 2020 @ 12:02 pm
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Credit: InStyle.com/Jason Armond/Getty Images

Amid the COVID-19-crisis, racism — America’s  400+ year-old virus — is still the biggest pandemic our country faces today. And as of yet there is no vaccine.

Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Bothem Jean, Stephon Clark, Renisha McBridge, Christian Cooper, Kevin Davis, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, John Crawford, Amadou Diallo, Nicholas Thomas, Eric Garner, Kevin Davis, Kathryn Johnson, Jordan Davis.

If you grew tired reading the above series of names, imagine the exhaustion and helplessness the Black community feels experiencing racism and police brutality, and their pain, fear, and anxiety growing with every day and every name. Racism isn’t getting worse in 2020, it’s just getting caught on camera — but it shouldn't take a viral video, like the one showing George Floyd being suffocated to death by a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his throat for more than 8 minutes, for white people and non-Black POC to speak up and take action.

People outside of the Black community have a responsibility in this battle. If they are not actively fighting against racism — instead leaning on empathy and their self-assigned “I’m not racist” badge — their inaction is a knee on the throats of Black people too.

As protestors continue to take to the streets in response to the killing of George Floyd, do not become distracted with the what (looting, cars and stores set on fire, defaced monuments, etc.), when the why points back to yourself. What have you actively done to help prevent this outcome and how will you join the Black community in stepping up, speaking up, and joining the fight?

Empathy is a start, but it doesn’t have a sustainable impact on justice for Black lives. Empathy needs to fuel consistent action that progresses linearly, not just action that spikes when the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag starts trending.

Here’s how to be an ally and be actively anti-racist, how to reach out to Black friends, and how to confront racial injustice even if it means putting yourself and your livelihood at risk.

Listen to and Amplify Voices of POC — and Do Your Own Research

First and foremost, it is not the responsibility of your Black friends or colleagues to help you understand racism or systematic oppression. Although you may have the right intentions in reaching out to them for answers, it’s not the job of the oppressed to unpack the injustices they face every day to help inform you.

I’ve spoken to many Black friends recently, and we are exhausted and mentally drained from continuously sharing resources that are a simple Google search away, or discussing themes that have already entered the national discourse, within Black films like Selma or When They See Us, in songs like “This Is America” by Childish Gambino, and in protests like Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee.

It’s on you to do the work, the research (which hopefully led you to this article), and to educate yourself first.

Resources:

A playlist of videos for understanding racism in America.

Books

  • Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, And A New Era In America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery
  • Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
  • White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
  • How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Films/Series

Spike Lee released a short film, 3 Brothers, which showcases police brutality along with clips from the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Gardner.

Additional movies/series highlighting racism in America:

  • The Hate U Give
  • Queen & Slim
  • Fruitvale Station
  • When They See Us
  • 13th
  • Dear White People
  • Hidden Figures
  • Remember the Titans

Connect with Those Who Are Different Than You

This may seem contradictory to doing your own research, but it’s not. In connecting with those who are different from you (racially or culturally), you’ll gain knowledge. Your newfound awareness can shape not only your mindset and perspective overtime, but how you move in this world.

That said, don’t rush to ask your Black friends or peers, “how are you doing”  — it's tone-deaf, even in good faith. Instead, first acknowledge you are privileged to not know what they are experiencing, and share with them what you are doing to be more active in the fight against racial injustice.

Do Not Be Silent — Confront Racial Injustices Even When It’s Uncomfortable

There comes a time when silence is betrayal; or worse, a stance with the oppressor. This fight is not about Black versus white, instead it’s about human life. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

We all have a role in this fight to save Black lives. If it starts with #BlackLivesMatter, that’s OK. But check in with yourself, make sure you’re progressing and evaluate how you’re actively participating in the fight. If you’re just retweeting Black creators once a day, it becomes more about checking the box and less about the work itself.

Again, do your own research — find ways to progress. Donate money and time, sign petitions, volunteer or attend peaceful marches, protests, and rallies. Show up.

Sign Petitions:

Donate:

  • NAACP Legal Defense Fund: Legal organization fighting against racial injustice.
  • George Floyd Memorial Fund: The official page to support the Floyd Family.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union: Provides legal assistance wherever civil liberties are at risk.
  • Minnesota Freedom Fund: Community-based non-profit that pays criminal bail and immigration bonds for individuals who have been arrested while protesting police brutality.
  • Know your Rights Camp: Provides resources for Black and Brown communities, including hiring defense attorneys for anyone arrested protesting police brutality.
  • Black Visions Collective: A Black, trans, queer-led organization that is committed to dismantling systems of oppression and violence and shifting the public narrative to create transformative, long-term change.
  • Campaign Zero: Online platform and organization that utilizes research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America.
  • Unicorn Riot: Non-profit organization that is dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues.

Email, Text or Call:

If you’re unsure of what to say or write, the petition websites will walk you through it.

  • City of Minneapolis PD: Police@minneapolism.gov
  • Office of Police Conduct Review: PoliceReview@minneapolism.gov
  • Minneapolis 311: minneapolis311@minneapolismn.gov
  • Text JUSTICE to 668366
  • Governor Tim Walz: 612-201-3400
  • Mayor Jacob Frey: 612-673-2100
  • Police Chief Arendondo: 612-673-3550
  • Minneapolis PD: 612-673-3000
  • Minneapolis Dept of Civil Rights: 612-348-3550

Review Your Biases Proactively and Build New Habits

When you adopt and celebrate Black culture and trends, but don't acknowledge the disparity and oppression faced by Black people, that’s hypocrisy.

Take action: review biases that you may have overlooked or that were passed down from generation to generation and normalized. Those biases influence your actions and allow you to continue building upon the framework of structural racism.

Project Implicit (online self-test): Psychologists at Harvard developed the Hidden Bias Tests where individuals are able to examine their own possible biases. Try it.

Know that coming to terms with your own privilege will not be easy, as feelings of guilt, shame and anger are necessary throughout the process. It is not easy to exist in this country as a Black person; accepting some difficulty is an important part of owning your privilege. Do not shy away. We are at an inflection point in our country. Knowledge is still power through awareness and mindfulness, and ignorance is still not an excuse.