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A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming an Ally to the Black Community

culture and society

Lately it seems like we haven’t gone two weeks without a high-profile event regarding race getting kicked up in the media. And while a lot of people I know who are passionate about social justice get vocal about it, a number of people around me are surprisingly silent. The silence came up recently among a group of friends, and the general response was “I want to do something, but 1) I don’t know how or where to start. 2) I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. 3) I don’t understand ______.”

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Until I made a deliberate move to dig in and start figuring it all out for me, I did much of the same. Here’s a gentle primer (from an expert on absolutely nothing, so take it all with a pinch of salt — and feel free to add to it) on what you can do to become an ally to the black community and help eradicate racism.

1. We can stop telling racist jokes, and we can stop laughing at racist jokes. The one about the mom with five kids, all with different last names? The one about afros? The one about fried chicken? The one about the guy with the iPhone in the unemployment line?

It may seem soft, everyday, or subtle, but even micro-aggressions are damaging. Imagine if that one seemingly well-meaning guy who told that mildly racist joke for the humor value was met with blank expressions. :| :| :|

2. We can temper the knee-jerk reaction to be offended and do a little research. A few years back, I was at a conference that was for work and simultaneously celebrated diversity. It was a mixed crowd, but white people were definitely in the minority. I spotted a man walking around wearing a t-shirt that declared “I love black women.”

My initial response was to be offended. Black women? What about everyone else? Does he consider me less-than because I’m not black? I was so intimidated that I didn’t even ask questions.

But now, I get it. I get #blacklivesmatter and I get #blackgirlsrock and I get “I love black women.” Not only do I get it, I support it.

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Saying black lives matter isn’t saying that other lives don’t matter. Declaring that black girls rock is celebratory, not exclusive. We have to say these things because our country statistically does not believe that black lives matter. Our country historically does not celebrate black girls. Our society doesn’t consider black women to be the preferred aesthetic. And if one needs proof, google the words “pretty girl” or “beautiful woman” and see how long you scroll before finding a photo of a black girl.

“Remember when girls used to walk around in that Urban Outfitters tee that says ‘Everyone loves an Italian girl?'” a friend asked me. “That’s how I feel. I’m proud to be black, just like people are proud to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

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3. We can understand that black people face struggles that we do not. We can come to terms with the fact that racism is getting better, but it still exists and it creates challenges for black people that white people do not face.

They fear for their sons’ well-being. They have people cross the street to avoid them. They have to appropriate themselves for their own personal safety. They get pulled over 31% more than white drivers do. They deal with discrimination, racism, and stereotypes.

+ Black Woman Poses as a White Woman to Get Job Offers  From the comments: This “experiment” has been done many times before with the same results – send in the exact same resume but with one name Tamika Brown and one name Tracy Brown and Tracy gets the interview 38% more often than Tamika.

+ Affected  Karen (black) and her husband Marcus (white) have vastly different experiences living in their suburban neighborhood.

4. We can diversify our media. Check out what people of color are writing, speaking, and tweeting. Intentionally seeking out narratives from people who do not look like us is a killer to ignorance and apathy.

As an example, Humans of New York is my favorite thing on Facebook. NYC is so diverse and has so many immigrants. Brandon Stanton shares their stories beautifully, and it’s amazing to read the comments and see how much empathy they evoke.

You can check out websites like Huff Post Black Voices, Awesomely Luvvie, The Root, The Grio, and sooo many more. BuzzFeed video also produces some really interesting (and sometimes humorous) videos about race.

5. We can teach our children about race. “Normalize” different cultures in our own homes. I used to think that as years pass, society will become less racist. At some point, grandparents who use the n-word will no longer be with us. At some point, middle-aged dads will no longer declare to their daughters that they better not try to date any black boys. But realistically, racism knows no parameters of age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc, so it’s important to teach our children about equality.

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Read them books about race and books featuring children with different backgrounds. Give them multiracial toys. Let them listen to a variety of music. Some book suggestions: (These are affiliate links, and any proceeds will go to Black Girls Rock!, Inc.)

+ I Am Rosa Parks
+ I Am Jackie Robinson
+ I Am Martin Luther King Jr.
+ Chocolate Me
+ The Skin You Live In
+ I Love My Hair
+ Big Hair, Don’t Care
+ Full, Full, Full of Love

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6. We can make black friends. I know this may seem disingenuous. I’m not suggesting you start a Tinder-esque hunt to fill your quota, but simply to think about the community around you. Are you drawn to people who look like you? Totally normal. But have you (unconsciously, maybe) not pursued relationships with black people in your area? Invite someone out for coffee. Visit a black church (if visiting a church is in your comfort zone). Arrange a playdate for your kids. Not because you feel guilty, but because having a diverse group of friends will enhance your life, expand your worldview, and allow you to pick up more interesting recipes. ;)

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7. We can stop making an anecdotal experience discount what we’re learning about race. “But black people are racist against ME.” “But racism goes both ways.” “This black girl on my street stole the double stroller parked in my driveway.”

Sometimes people are jerks, regardless of color. Just keep listening + learning, and don’t let a personal experience stop you from doing so.

8. We can start dialogue. I know this is wild, and people generally consider Facebook to be a little bit of a cesspool, but stay with me on this one. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to talk to a couple hundred people you knew about race, you’d have to call them on the phone or have tense dinner parties in groups of eight in order to do so.

I have learned so much on Facebook and Twitter about race over the past year alone. I have a relatively diverse group of friends (and I follow a diverse group of people and news outlets), and am appreciative of articles shared and discussions started.

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The key, I’ve found, is to pace yourself, have an open mind, and avoid being combative. Polite, open discourse is fantastic, and sometimes a friend who is feeling ambivalent about speaking about injustice just needs to see that someone else was brave enough to start the conversation. Your bravery gives others courage, as trite as that may sound.

It’s okay to tell someone that their racist joke sucks. It’s okay to declare that you believe black lives matter. And it’s okay to not have all the answers. Being willing to learn and listen to other narratives challenges ignorance, increases empathy, and moves us to action.

(photos courtesy FlickrRyan, Amanda, Christina, A’Driane)

“Always be shipping.”

hustle and flow

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This is a short series on my journey from “Hey, this might be a neat idea” to “Look what we just did.” (Hopefully, anyway. There’s always a solid chance that I fail gloriously and publicly.) Here’s Part 1 (with a fuller explanation), Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and […]

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