Violence and racism towards Black communities in Canada and the United States is nothing new. And these communities have always been vocal about the anti-Black racism they experience on the daily.
But non-Black people haven’t always been vocal enough around holding others, institutions and themselves accountable when it comes to tackling oppression, experts and advocates say. The violent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor renewed calls to fight racism and harm to Black people, sparking protests against police brutality.
For allies, actions are what matter in these moments — not just using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media, says Alicia Cox Thomson, a Toronto-based writer who has written about how to be a better friend to Black women for FLARE magazine.
“While I appreciate the sentiments… what else are you doing? How are you actively living an anti-racist life? I don’t need you to tell me, just live it every day,” she said.
Supporting Black people in meaningful ways is important, and there are ways to do so without burdening them or asking them to educate you on racism and white privilege, Cox Thomson said.
Here are some ways on how to best support the Black community not only during this important social-political time, but always.
Listen more and speak less
If you are not part of the Black community, it is important to listen to Black voices first and foremost. Every group of people should have self-determination when it comes to defining a social movement and responses to injustice, said Lisa M. Stulberg, an associate professor of sociology of education at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“Black people have lived experiences with race that are diverse and that are very different from white experiences with race,” Stulberg said.
Stulberg, whose research focuses on the politics of race and education, says “allies to any movement need to always be paying attention to when it is the right time to speak and when it is the right time to just listen, learn, and follow.”
Renee Raymond, a registered psychotherapist based in Toronto, said at a time like this, non-Black Canadians may not know how to support their Black friends, family members or colleagues. Living with these experiences and seeing these experiences are two completely different things, she previously told Global News.
“We can only understand someone’s story so much, and that includes understanding the hurt and trauma that the Black community is facing,” she said.
“If you’re speaking to your Black colleagues, friends, and spouses, listen to what they’re saying rather than qualifying their experience based on your own.”
It’s not the job of marginalized groups to educate non-marginalized people on history or their experiences.
The biggest mistake you can make is to ask Black people to perform the labour of teaching you about what they are experiencing and how you should behave, Cox Thomson said.
“Don’t ask me how to help you learn; do your own research. The other mistake is performative allyship, people who post the hashtags etc. to boost their own image for likes and follows. Just listen, learn and never stop,” she said.
Reading about Black history and experience is vital, Stulberg said, and white people should read widely and consume media/art produced by Black people.
There are endless resources online about allyship and important reading on issues including anti-Black racism and how to support racial justice. An entire Google drive of Black history literature organized by activist Charles Preston is publicly available.
Fiona MacDonald, an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley who specializes in gender politics and feminism, said allyship requires an understanding that the best way to be an ally “is to read, listen, and engage with the extensive work that is already available,” and pointed to an article by Courtney Ariel titled, “For our White Friends Desiring to be Allies.”
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“Ask when you don’t know — but do the work first. This is nuanced. Some marginalized/disenfranchised folks will tell you not to ask them anything; don’t be offended by that,” Ariel wrote.
“Folks are tired, and that is understandable because it is exhausting to be a marginalized person in this world.”
Speak out against racism
It’s important to speak out against racism in conversations in your everyday life, including with your family, friends and coworkers. If you are white, you have privilege that people of colour do not have, Stulberg said, and have access to “other white people in ways that people of colour generally do not.”
To be a true ally, though, Stulberg said standing against racism is “a lifelong commitment for white people” and you cannot be selective when you choose to speak out.
“A lot of white racism now — especially among people who already think of themselves as racial liberals or progressives — is quite subtle or is more institutional and embedded than it is explicit,” she said.
“We white people have a responsibility to use our privilege — and our institutional positions, especially if we hold leadership roles or are otherwise situated to make a difference in institutions — to figure out how to work against this kind of racism, too.”
As protests continue across the world and images of violence against Black people flood the news, Raymond says non-Black people also need to have honest conversations around this trauma when Black Canadians are speaking up about it.
Non-Black people should respond with compassion and action, as they are integral allies in the fight against racism, she said.
“As anti-racist activist Jane Elliott asked, ‘Would you be happy to receive the same treatment that our Black citizens do in this society?’” Raymond said.
“If your answer is no, then it may be time to reflect on whether you are helping/not helping to change that.”
It’s important to confront your own privileges and ultimately commit every day to your role as an ally, said Cox Thomson.
“For everyone, be actively anti-racist. Speak up for Black friends, colleagues and employees.”
Donate to community organizations
If you can at this time, giving money to causes that support Black communities is helpful.
To honour 26-year-old Taylor, an EMT who was killed in a police shooting in her Louisville, Ky., home on March 13, a call-to-action site has been created. The site includes organizations to donate to, including a GoFundMe for Taylor’s family and a local bail fund.
Canadian pop culture newsletter Friday Things wrote about how to be a good ally to Black friends, listing organizations to donate to including the Black Health Alliance and the Black Mental Health Matters Fund.
“If you’re able, donate to causes like Black Lives Matter Toronto,” Cox Thomson said.
“Do the research to seek out Black charities and support systems that need help in your area. Consume media created by Black people — seek out writers, artists and musicians that are new to you.”
Own up to your mistakes
If you are not Black, you will never understand the experience of a Black person, and it’s important to remember that. When you make a mistake, be willing to get called on it and apologize. Learn from it, and do better, Stulberg said.
“Talking about race, racism, white supremacy, and white privilege takes practice, especially in mixed-race groups and especially for white people. So, practise!” she said.
“And don’t make things all about you.”