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Navigating Black Allyship as a Non-Black Person of Color

Herman Luis Chavez, Managing Editor

July 24, 2020

For non-Black people of color, it can be difficult to navigate allyship with the Black community, especially for those who are only just now beginning to educate themselves on Black justice. This article provides an introduction to the first steps and best practices you can take to be a better ally for Black folk in the U.S. as a non-black person of color.

Allyship is a complicated ordeal, especially for non-Black people of color.

In the wake of the recent nation-wide demonstrations in response to the disproportionate effects of police brutality on Black communities, many white individuals have found themselves inspired to seek education that confronts their white privilege, that exposes the history of white supremacy in the U.S., and that lays bare the realities of racial disparities in police systems. Yet, communities of non-Black people of color have been either silent or selfish, such as the hesitancy to join in protests or the reports of Hispanic neighborhoods ousting protesters in Manhattan.

Colorism is prominent in Hispanic communities, where we see darker-skinned Latinos are more likely to experience racial discrimination and are more likely to experience worse mental and physical health. A preference for lighter skin in Latino communities often begins in the household, with families praising lighter-skinned children and treating darker-skinned children worse, often calling them racially charged terms such as “indio” or “prieto” that teaches a distinction between lighter skin and darker skin. Latinos carry this with them in the way they treat Black people. The racial ambiguity of Latinos make it all the more difficult to deconstruct their relationship with racism both in and out of the Hispanic community.

Similarly, in Asian communities, a preference for lighter skin complicated their relationship with Black justice. This white preference is often made explicit through health products or procedures, like those from Thailand, that promote a change in image in pursuit of lighter skin. The k-pop musical genre that is immensely popular in the U.S. is largely based off of Black musical styles—a sign of cultural appropriation—and the powerful k-pop industry has largely stayed silent in the wake of Black Lives Matter.

These instances of racial preference in non-Black communities have very real consequences for Black communities. We should not forget Hmong-American Tou Thao’s complicit behaviour as Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, when he stood nearby and ignored Floyd’s repeated pleas to breathe. It is difficult for those of us who identify as non-Black people of color to acknowledge colorism or racism in our own communities that are already discriminated against in American society, but it is vital to deconstruct our concepts of race to support Black individuals who suffer the most systemic violence and oppression in the United States.

So… how do we do that?

Step One: Understand that to be an ally, you must be actively anti-racist. This means moving past being simply “not racist,” where your complicity allows racism to continue in yourself and in those around you. The National Museum of African American History & Culture’s guide to being anti-racist says it best: “Being antiracist results from a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily.” This means challenging racism whenever you see it, whether in yourself or in others; it also means incorporating anti-racism into your daily life, such as dedicating yourself to sign at least one petition, read at least one article, or contact at least one elected official every day.

Step Two: Acknowledge that we are on both sides of the issue, and that is valid. On one hand, people of color do experience racism everyday in this country, from the anti-immigration rhetoric used against Hispanic individuals to the anti-Asian rhetoric that has grown out of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, on the other, we do experience privilege due to the lighter color of our skin, and we are not as systematically oppressed as Black people. We must recognize that our own racial and ethinic suffering is valid while also understanding the importance of supporting Black communities.

Step Three: Confront your own anti-Black tendencies and those in your household. Does your family call you “moreno” and prefer your lighter-skinned sibling? Do you still subconsciously cross the street when you see a Black person walking in your direction? Take some time to take stock as to how racist rhetoric, no matter how small, has manifested itself in your daily life. We must understand when we have been programmed for racism and actively counter those measures. This is especially important to do at home, to ensure that we don’t pass along those dangerous perspectives to future generations.

Step Four: Empathize. We need to understand that the loss of Black lives are not just names or numbers on your old college friend’s Instagram story; these are human beings, with lives and relationships like us who remember them. By understanding the humanity of the suffering of Black families, where 1 in 1,000 Black men can be expected to die at the hands of police brutality or whose children are funneled through the school-to-prison pipeline, we open ourselves to how necessary it is to become an ally in anti-racism.

Step Five: Education. Deconstruct your relationship with whiteness and power by centering the Black experience in narrative, qualitative, and quantitative manners. Read books by Black authors, listen to podcasts that break down Black history, study articles on systemic racism in police systems. By spending the time acquiring knowledge on the Black experience, you become better equipped to challenge your own viewpoints and to educate others. Here’s a starting point: go back to each of the links throughout this article and read them. Next step? Visit the end of this list for some more resources to get you started. By simply reading every link in this article, you are already taking an important step in anti-racism and supporting Black communities.

You can also put all of these steps together.

Take the time to listen about their stories from those who knew them. While it may be uncomfortable, confronting the humanity of the victims of police brutality allow us to open our hearts more to understanding the experience that these communities endure. I have been attending a weekly webinar titled Black Minds Matter, a public course intended to raise the national consciousness about issues affecting Black children in education (you can attend the last three sessions; they’re coming up now!), where academics, educators, and guest speakers discuss the importance of valuing Black knowledge at all levels of our education system. In our last session, we heard from Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother. Here are a few quotes that Carr mentioned about Garner, which gave the audience a depth we couldn’t understand only from a name and a statistic:

“The family always wanted him at the functions, he was the life of the party.”

“I stopped them from picking on him, and I brought him home for dinner.” Carr recalls Garner saying this to her when she came home to find him with a classmate who had been bullied.

“‘Mom look! I did it, I got 100% attendance,’ and I said, ‘You did that?’ and he said, ‘no mom, you did. You got me up every morning.’”

“He was a strong student. He didn’t have too many problems in school with his classmates, the teachers talked highly about him, and they said that he was a person who if you confronted him, he would face it.”

By attending the Black Minds Matter webinars, for only 90 minutes a week, I am taking action for education that stimulates empathy and it turns allows me to be more successful when I engage in anti-racist work with myself and others. This is one of many examples of the type of actionable items you can take to support the Black community.

It is a difficult step to take, but an important one to bring about racial equality for everyone. By reframing our relationship with racism, becoming anti-racist, and supporting Black communities, we begin the change that breaks away at the strength of racism throughout our society.

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