Being Black in a predominantly white space can oftentimes be incredibly uncomfortable, in part because of microaggressions. A microaggression is a constant interaction or behavior that comes across as hostile and prejudiced toward a marginalized group, whether or not the intention was to offend. Read that last part again: whether or not the intention was to offend.
Many Black people have constantly dealt with microaggressions throughout their lives. From the beginnings of our adolescence in the classroom, to our adulthoods in which we must navigate the social climates of our workplaces, these passive-aggressive actions do way more harm than good. They often leave stains on how we view ourselves, which become detrimental to our mental, emotional, and physical health. Below are examples of microaggressions that you might have in your everyday vocabulary, and explanations of why they’re inappropriate and offensive.
1. “Is that your real hair? Can I touch it?”
Black hair has always been a controversial topic. From people mimicking our styles to laws making it illegal to discriminate against our hair, we have always had some type of struggle as it relates to our hair. A lot of us—especially Black women—have also had to deal with passive-aggressive comments about it. Whether it is at school, at the grocery store, or at work, asking a Black person “Is that your real hair?” basically implies that Black people are incapable of having our own hair. It is common for white people and non-Black POC to ask us this because of their negative perceptions of Black hair and the stereotype that Black women only wear wigs and weaves. When a Black person tells you that it is, in fact, their real hair, please do not take it upon yourself to touch it. This is a downright-disrespectful invasion of privacy. Whether it be braids, a weave, or our natural hair, it is not your right to continuously ask about it, or to make us uncomfortable by touching it. This should also give you insight as to why appropriating Black hair is offensive. If we cannot wear it in peace, why should someone else get to wear it with praise?
2. “You speak “ ‘white’ ”
There is a common misconception that Black people are incapable of encompassing vernacular beyond AAVE (African American Vernacular English). Due to stereotypes perpetuated by white media, many people have this idea that, if a Black person is speaking without AAVE, they are trying to be “white”. First of all, there is no such thing as speaking “white”, so let’s debunk that myth. Second, someone who has an advanced vocabulary is not inherently smarter than someone that uses AAVE. An advanced vocabulary should not relate to intelligence, but because we have been told that it does, many people relate intelligence to whiteness. This then feeds into the myth that Black people are uneducated and are trying to “act white” when they use bigger words. The bottom line is: don’t assume someone’s intelligence based on their vocabulary alone, and don’t believe the negative stereotype that Black people have to speak a certain way in order to “be educated”.
3. “Are you sure you didn’t cheat?”
Being Black in academia is tough. From the lack of representation in teachers to racism in the classroom, being a Black student from kindergarten through college can be a rather traumatizing experience. One common microaggression we face is teachers—and sometimes fellow students—assuming we’ve cheated when receiving a grade that is beyond their expectations. When you, a student, ask someone “Did you cheat?” or “How did you get that grade, when I didn’t even do that well?” you’re once again feeding into the stereotype that Black people are uneducated, and that you believe we are inferior to you. In my experience, many educators also refuse to separate their one or two ‘bad’ experience(s) with Black people from their Black students. This makes the conversations between themselves and Black students contentious; their negative preconceived assumptions about Black people taint their instruction toward Black students.
4. “You’re super hot for a Black person”
Whether it is on Tinder or on an actual date, many of us have, at a certain point, heard someone tell us that we are “attractive for a Black person”. Due to Eurocentric beauty standards, people often correlate beauty with whiteness or fair skin. In my experiences with various dating apps, it’s pretty common for me to get a message at least once a week from someone who is white or a non-Black POC saying something along the lines of “I usually don’t date Black, but you are the exception.” This is not a compliment, nor will it ever be. Telling someone that you are not attracted to their race but that they are the exception to the rule shows your casual racism and makes them feel interior. If you’re against dating someone based off of their ethnicity, you need to take a hard look at yourself. These types of comments should never be stated in the first place. They’re not cute and they will never make anyone feel good about themselves.
These microaggressions are not just things we experience once in a blue moon—sadly, they are things many Black people experience on an almost daily basis. In order for this to stop, we must have these conversations. Whether you’re in the workplace, dating someone who is Black, have Black students, or have Black friends, try to have the conversation with those around you. And if you feel as though you have fed into any of these microaggressions yourself, take this time to stop. In the era of learning, there should also be unlearning.
Image: WOCinTechChat / Unsplash
As the country continues its long-overdue racial awakening, a new (but not actually new) holiday has started to make its way into the white cultural consciousness: Juneteenth. While Black Americans have been celebrating Juneteenth for over 150 years, white people are just catching on (just like with every other aspect of culture).
This year has seen nationwide demands for states and companies to honor the holiday with a paid day off. Corporations from Nike to big law firms and tech startups have publicly announced their employees will have the day off in observance. For those of you who are new to the Juneteenth party, here’s a primer on everything you need to know to honor this holiday.
When Is Juneteenth and What Does It Recognize?
Juneteenth takes place on June 19th every year and commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Specifically, it commemorates the day (June 19th, 1865) that Union soldiers finally made it to Galveston, Texas to tell enslaved people that the war was over and they were now free. It does not commemorate Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official U.S. law on January 1st, 1863, but was not fully implemented to all until the order was read to enslaved people all the way in Texas two and a half years later.
Many plantation owners held enslaved people captive long after the proclamation, or intentionally fled westward to avoid approaching Union forces who would inform them of their free status.
On Juneteenth, a Union general finally read the words:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
How Long Has Juneteenth Been Celebrated?
Juneteenth (also known as “Emancipation Day” and “Freedom Day”) celebrations date back to 1866, starting in Texas, then spreading throughout the south and eventually the entire United States. Today, Juneteenth celebrations can be found in every part of the country, and it is recognized as a “state holiday” or “special day of observance” in 47 states. The three states that do not recognize Juneteenth in any way are Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Really, Hawaii? I’d expect this from the Dakotas, but not from you…
How Is Juneteenth Celebrated?
Juneteenth is celebrated in various ways across the country. Being that this holiday started in Texas, it should come as no surprise that barbecues are a central component of the day, and cookouts featuring red foods to symbolize the perseverance of enslaved people are a cornerstone of most celebrations.
But that’s not all! Communities also commemorate Juneteenth with rodeos, parades, church services, and other outdoor celebrations. There is even a Miss Juneteenth pageant in which high school-aged Black girls compete for scholarships.
There is also an educational aspect to Juneteenth, with youth-focused initiatives aimed at helping young people understand the history of slavery in the United States, the lived experiences of enslaved people at the time, and the continued struggle for social justice. If you’re a white person looking to celebrate Juneteenth for the first time, this is probably the best place to focus your actions. You can also make a donation to four different groups fighting for racial justice here.
Why Isn’t Juneteenth A National Federal Holiday?
I don’t know! That’s an excellent question. Perhaps you’d like to ask your elected officials? More states give their employees the day off to honor pro-slavery Confederate soldiers than legally recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. Until this week, Texas was the only state where Juneteenth is a state holiday, meaning state employees get a paid day off just as with Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Christmas, etc. This year, governors of Virginia and New York introduced legislation to formally recognize the date as a state holiday in 2021, with Governor Cuomo declaring via executive order that state employees will have June 19, 2020 off.
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After Blackout Tuesday, you may have seen the term “optical allyship” making the rounds on social media, along with the phrase “it’s a movement, not a moment.” While it’s great that Black Lives Matter is finally being accepted in the mainstream and talked about on a global scale, and showing solidarity (especially on social media) is important, it shouldn’t be your only step toward working to be anti-racist. If you are committed to practicing allyship continually, it’s important to learn what optical allyship is, why it’s counterproductive, and how you can make sure you’re going beyond the optics with your support.
So, What is Optical Allyship?
the internal work – interrogating, re-arranging, and re-educating our psyches and hearts – that’s the hard work. that’s the work nobody will hold you accountable for. do that too. do that most.
— kendra (@kendramorous) June 2, 2020
Latham Thomas, author of Own Your Glow, coined the term optical allyship, which she defines as “allyship that only serves at the surface level to platform the ‘ally.’” She explains, “It makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress.” Basically, optical allyship is performative, serving the ally and not really digging deeper into understanding the systems of oppression so they can be dismantled. Optical allyship is mostly talk, when true allyship is about actions. As Roxane Gay explains in her article On Making Black Lives Matter, “The problem with allyship is that good intentions are not enough. Allyship offers a safe haven from harsh realities and the dirty work of creating change. It offers a comfortable distance that can be terribly unproductive.” Separating yourself from optical allyship means not just posting a black square or Martin Luther King Jr. quote and calling it a day, it means taking on the struggle and fight as if it’s your own and committing to doing the work—not just this week, but beyond. That is where the real allyship begins.
Optical Allyship In Action
One of the obvious examples of optical allyship is the influencers who use the protests and Black Lives Matter movement to up their IG aesthetics. While (I hope) we all know right off the bat why it’s wrong to show up to a protest, take one picture, and then bounce, posting a protest thirst trap isn’t the beginning and end of optical allyship.
Odds are that the majority of us have either posted an Instagram story or retweeted an image or statement recently in efforts to spread awareness and show support for the movement. If you are not also donating to causes supporting Black Lives Matter, supporting Black-owned businesses, reading up on Black history, and/or calling your representatives, then that Instagram story or retweet falls under optical allyship. In an Instagram post, Thomas explains, “True allyship is about building trust, being consistent, standing up, speaking up, recognizing the struggle and carrying some of the weight, it’s using your God-given sense to figure some of this stuff out and not waiting for folks to tell you.”
I get it for those of you out there that want to support the movement but aren’t sure how or what to do. I can also see how one might think that posting a black square is a contribution to the cause because you’re showing solidarity, but in reality, ask yourself what is it really doing and who is it really serving? It is not enough to just post a quote or an image without any context or link out to reliable resources. That is when your allyship becomes performative and fails to break through to deeper levels in order to invoke real conversation and change. Really, it’s time to put your money where your black square is. As Roxane Gay puts it, “We need people to use common sense to figure out how to participate in social justice.”
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There are people who are truly energized and moved to work to improve the lives of marginalized people. They do a lot behind the scenes that people can’t always see, they have an interest and commitment to learning. There are also people who are taking advantage of this pivotal momentum in culture and tokenizing people of color and the marginalized to further their pursuits. There are people who never before took interest in my work or the work of my sisters and brothers on the front lines of change, but now that it’s “cool” to be “woke” I find my inbox flooded with disingenuous requests to attach to the hard work we’ve done or to use my credibility like a cash card to advance the credibility of someone who is just clearly interested in making money and growing a following. I’m not interested in OPTICAL ALLYSHIP. This is allyship that only serves at the surface level to platform the “ally”, it makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress. True allyship is about building trust, being consistent, standing up, speaking up, recognizing the struggle and carrying some of the weight, it’s using your God-given sense to figure some of this stuff out and not waiting for folks to tell you. Its knowing that your voice is powerful alongside marginalized voices – not infront of or instead of marginalized ones. It’s using Google and reading books and joining groups that are aimed at anti-oppression. It’s becoming a great listener and recognizing that just because you’re new to the work, doesn’t mean it’s new. Know that folks have been working all along and you’re stepping into something already in play… get in where you fit in, take notes, bring resources, and acknowledge you have work to do. Just because you have one black friend, a LGBTQIA family member or work with someone disabled doesn’t mean that you’re doing the work. It doesn’t happen on its own- you have to constantly engage and challenge yourself- this is a lifelong commitment, not a popular one. Also, why not let other folks recognize you as an ally or label you an activist. ——CONTINUED BELOW—— READ
How To Be An Authentic Ally
So, how do you make the leap from optical allyship to being an authentic ally? Well for starters, just listen without feeling the need to insert yourself into the dialogue. As Thomas writes in her Instagram caption, “just because you’re new to the work, doesn’t mean it’s new. Know that folks have been working all along and you’re stepping into something already in play…get in where you fit in, take notes, bring resources, and acknowledge you have work to do.” Especially as white people, one of the best things we can do (and it’s so easy) is actually just shut up and listen.
That doesn’t mean you should never post on social media about Black Lives Matter—it just means be intentional about what you do post. Instead of just posting a square, see if you can post resources. Share organizations, educational materials, and places to donate. Share artwork by BIPOC illustrators and designers to amplify their voices.
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Systemic racism wasn’t built in a day, and abolishing it won’t happen in a few weeks, either. Continued ally support is essential in the battle against racism. Black lives matter today, they matter tomorrow, and they will continue to matter long after the protests subside. Being an ally is an ongoing commitment. I understand that this learning and these conversations can be uncomfortable, and change can be too, but when people are losing their lives, then it’s time to get uncomfortable.
Yes, take action by educating yourself. Read books, watch documentaries—do that. Then go a step further by implementing your newfound knowledge into your everyday life, and by having discussions with people in your life about what you learned. This doesn’t mean that you have to blow up and check your conservative aunt with soap opera-level dramatics at every family gathering, but you can still discourage and shut down any racist remarks, and help educate those who make them. Conversations lead to change, so they’re worth having—comfortable or not. Amélie Lamont writes in The Guide To Allyship, “As an ally, you need to be willing to own your mistakes and be proactive in your education.” Not to be cheesy, but every day is a new opportunity to do better. You can also continue your practice by following accounts that reinforce these ideologies, like Mireille Harper, who released a 10-step guide to achieving non-optical allyship. The resources are all there, so use them. Seriously, if you can take the time to learn how to bake sourdough bread, then you can take the time to learn how to be an ally.
How To Make Allyship Your Lifelong Priority
There’s another level of allyship that goes beyond sharing resources, spending money, and having hard conversations with family members and friends. You may have heard the saying, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” This refers to how the actions that are necessary to truly dismantle systemic racism might appear to mean putting yourself or your white peers at a seeming disadvantage in some parts of your life.
The difference between these types of opportunities for allyship, versus what we’ve been witnessing happening on social media over the past few weeks, is that we don’t always get to choose when these opportunities arise for us, and they may appear as harder choices than simply choosing to buy from a Black-owned brand. But recognizing these opportunities to stand up and speak up, and then doing it, is what makes allyship authentic vs. performative.
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My heart has been breaking. I’ve been praying. I’ve been doing the work. I’ve been sending my love, I’ve been posting,but most of all I’ve been angry that my friends are unprotected &unsafe. Racism is bigger than just America. ITS GLOBAL. Incase you haven’t seen your friends shouting for years they need us. I as a NBPOC have to stand. So do you. So does your family and every person you know. The racism and oppression a Black person feels is not interchangeable with a person of color (POC) either. It’s not the same thing. The history is proof. 𝐈𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐃𝐎 𝐍𝐎𝐓 𝐰𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐮𝐩 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲 𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐥𝐞 𝐝𝐚𝐲 𝐟𝐞𝐞𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐬 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐬𝐞𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐧 𝐬𝐨𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐘𝐄𝐀𝐑𝐒, 𝐞𝐱𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐞𝐝 𝐛𝐲 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐛𝐥𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐟𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐬 𝐬𝐮𝐜𝐡 𝐚𝐬: “𝐮𝐧𝐬𝐚𝐟𝐞” “𝐮𝐧𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐝” “𝐮𝐧𝐬𝐞𝐞𝐧” “𝐞𝐱𝐡𝐚𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐝” “𝐬𝐜𝐚𝐫𝐞𝐝” “𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐥𝐦𝐞𝐝” “𝐡𝐮𝐫𝐭” “𝐈𝐧𝐬𝐢𝐠𝐧𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐧𝐭” 𝐓𝐇𝐄𝐍 𝐘𝐎𝐔 𝐇𝐎𝐋𝐃 𝐀 𝐏𝐑𝐈𝐕𝐈𝐋𝐄𝐆𝐄 𝐓𝐇𝐀𝐓 𝐁𝐋𝐀𝐂𝐊 𝐏𝐄𝐎𝐏𝐋𝐄 𝐋𝐀𝐂𝐊. We have seen our Black friends continuously express that Although social media posts are a wonderful tool to spread word and awareness to the issue, they want to see us pull up for them everyday. Anti Racism is acknowledging that you play a role in the problem. Acknowledge that we aren’t doing enough. Being a part of the solution towards racism is challenging the world to turn towards the problem everyday. 𝐃𝐎 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝗪𝐎𝐑𝐊 and make it your moral responsibility. Through having conversations with friends and doing research I have put together some things I have learned to be helpful in practicing effective Allyship. I am not an expert at all and I will continue to learn. If you couldn’t attend the protest today here are some things you CAN do (implement these into your daily life. No more excuses) 𝐋𝐈𝐒𝐓𝐄𝐍. 𝐔𝐍𝐋𝐄𝐀𝐑𝐍. 𝐃𝐎 𝐒𝐎𝐌𝐄𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐍𝐆. Today. Tomorrow. Every single day. If you are sharing a planet with other human beings it is your duty to educate yourself. And When injustice becomes law it is your DUTY as a citizen of this world to stand up. #blacklivesmatter #dothework *I don’t own the information in the LINKS provided within the slides*
For example, let’s say you’re a parent at a school district meeting. Pretend it’s a great school district, the type where parents will pay higher property taxes to give their children the chance to attend. Now pretend that the racial or socioeconomic makeup is one that doesn’t allow for a lot of diversity. Back to the hypothetical school board meeting: the issue at hand is trying to more actively integrate the school district, and that might be coded as “adding more multi-family homes to the district” aka zoning apartments. If you grew up in certain elitist suburbs, you know that there will be individuals who resist these changes, chalking it up to things like “property values” and the “school district ranking.” In this scenario, focusing on these latter things would indicate that someone prioritizes maintaining one’s own advantages (building wealth, premium education for their children) rather than allowing children of color to access these advantages as well. A commitment to being anti-racist can sometimes mean dismantling those types of perceived “disadvantages” for the sake of the greater good.
This is just one of the thousands of examples of systemic racism that persist in our society in ways that white people can choose to ignore and uphold. They’re also not the types of choices that we’re faced with every day, and perhaps these types of choices have previously been consciously uncoupled from race in the minds of most white people. The goal is to be able to see what issues in society have been insidiously shaped by racist policies, so that when we’re presented with an opportunity to actually do something about them, we’ve been educated and are committed enough to make the right choice, even if they might take away some of the advantages we’ve enjoyed in the past.
Images: Life Matters / Pexels; Kendra Austin / Instagram; Off Campus / Instagram; Shana Hezavehi / Instagram
The past few weeks, the country has been making strides in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and speaking out against police brutality and systemic racism. As a white woman, I’ll be the first to admit: I’m no expert on the matter, so I looked to an expert to point me in the right direction. While digging through YouTube in an effort to self-educate and understand, I came across diversity advocate Vernā Myers and her TED talk entitled “How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them”. (It was published over six years ago, which says a lot about how far we haven’t come.) The inclusion strategist, who specializes as a cultural change catalyst, says that acknowledging our racism might be the best way to overcome it. Naturally, this is just one video, one talk, and one tiny step on my path toward self-education. But as I’ve searched for guidance and answers and action items, Myers’ discussion about just how dangerous and deadly our biases can be stood out. (On that note: I’m always looking for more, so drop your best TED talks or educational recs in the comments.)
In her 18-minute discussion, the activist outlines her own personal biases and explains how the only way to stop the spread and continuation of unfair treatment is to look within ourselves and be willing to change. “What are we gonna do about it?” She asked the audience. “That part of us that still crosses the street, locks the doors, clutches the purses when we see young Black men? That part?”
I’ve never considered myself racist. I’ve had plenty of Black friends in my life, I’ve always supported equality, and I like to think I call out hate speech and bigotry. Guess what? That’s not enough. I thought that just because I’m not spewing slurs or consciously alienating Black people, that I’m not a part of the problem, when it turns out: I AM THE PROBLEM. By being silent and not addressing my own subconscious prejudices, I’m complicit in and contributing to a system that oppresses minorities. Still, no matter how well-intentioned I am, coming to terms with my own flaws and (gulp) racist tendencies was, and is, a tough pill to swallow.
In the video, Myers offers three tools to end unconscious biases. It’s the biases we don’t even know we have—and yes, we all have them—that feed into and help perpetuate the cycle of unjust treatment of Black people. So, what do we DO? Myers’ calls-to-action can help white people take the first (of many) steps on the path to helping Black Americans achieve true equality.
1. Get Out Of Denial
“We have to stop trying to be good people. We need real people,” Myers says. “The problem is, if you ask someone right out, they’ll say they aren’t biased. But most, if not literally all of us, have biases we don’t even know we have. Who do you trust? Who are you afraid of? Biases are the stories we make up about people before we know who they actually are.”
First and foremost, you need to learn what your biases are. She suggests the Implicit Association Test, which measures unconscious biases. The results of the vast population who has taken it is that 70% of white people unknowingly prefer white people and 50% of Black people unknowingly prefer white people. It’s not a conscious choice, and when I fell amongst that 70%, I was horrified. Which is, as Myers says, the first and right step. So, “what do we do about the fact that this is what our brain automatically associated?” Instead of pretending those biases aren’t there, we dive into them. Find out your biases and then go look for data to prove yourself wrong.
2. Move Toward Your Biases Instead Of Away From Them
“The problem with being ‘color blind’ is that it’s a false ideal,” Myers insists. “While we’re busy pretending not to see, we are not being aware of the ways in which racial difference is changing peoples’ possibilities. That’s keeping them from thriving and sometimes, it’s causing them an early death.” Once you’ve figured out your biases, the next step is, as the title of the talk says, “to walk boldly toward them.” That means you confront them head-on. One way to do this, as Myers says, is to “expand your social and professional circle. Go deeper and further.”
In addition to expanding our circles, “scientists are suggesting to stare at awesome Black people. Look at them. Learn about them. It helps dissociate the generations of unconscious biases in our brains.” Another way to subconsciously train your unconscious brain is to literally look at a side-by-side picture of a bad white person and an awesome Black person. Her suggestion was Jeffrey Dahmer and Colin Powell. She said just stare at them.
On the left, the white man, was an American serial killer who murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys. His later murders involved necrophilia, cannibalism, preserving body parts. The man on the right, the Black man, is a retired United States Army four-star general and was the 65th United States Secretary of State—the first Black person to serve in that position. Look at them again. And again. And again. Keep looking. Keep comparing. Burn it into your brain.
3. When You See Something, Have The Courage To Say Something
Finally, Myers pleads with the audience to say something when they see something. “Of course I would,” we think. In reality, it takes a lot of courage to do it, especially when it’s to the people we love. Those people, those conversations, however, might just be the most important. Whether it’s a grandparent or an uncle or a parent, these are the crucial talks to have, because this is how the cycle continues. Children hear the comments. We hear the comments, and whether we agree or not, they embed themselves in our brain and support unjust and unhealthy biases. “We can’t shelter our children from racism when Black parents don’t have the luxury of doing so, especially those who have young Black sons,” she insists. In order to stop the unconscious biases, we need to have the strength to call them out in those we love.
“This thing is not about perfection,” Myers says. “It’s about connection. You’re not going to get comfortable before you get uncomfortable.” Confront your biases, move toward them, and have the courage to say something, especially to those you love. Naturally, this is just the very start of the journey. There is no end-all-be-all solution to systemic racism—it’s a constant battle we all have to fight together. I’m learning, growing, messing up, and starting over, but what matters is that you’re ready, willing, listening, and changing. By taking the first step toward understanding your biases, maybe together we can figure out how to create a more inclusive world for everyone. Click here to take the Implicit Association Test and check out The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, another suggestion from Myers.
Images: @dyanawingso / Unsplash; Youtube / TED; EUGENE GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images/Biography; Blackpast
Right now, a lot of celebrities are using their platforms to speak out about systemic racism, offer resources for how white people can continue to learn and help, and highlight peaceful protests. And many influencers are opening dialogues about race, highlighting Black-owned businesses to support, and sharing information about government officials to contact to demand change. But as with just about anything, other influencers and wannabe influencers alike are co-opting these powerful protests against police brutality and using them for likes. And this is why we can’t have nice things. Here are a few stories of clout-chasing gone wrong.
— Jake Paul (@jakepaul) May 31, 2020
Everyone’s least favorite YouTuber and the word “jackass” personified, Jake Paul, was captured on video at a mall in Scottsdale as it was being looted last weekend. While videos didn’t show the walking Twitter apology himself participating in the looting, he was in the crowd (and on camera) with other people who were doing it, and he didn’t exactly try to stop them. He has now been charged with criminal trespass and unlawful assembly, both misdemeanors. Paul said on Twitter that he was not participating in the looting; he was simply documenting it: “To be absolutely clear, neither I nor anyone in our group was engaged in any looting or vandalism,” he wrote, adding that he and his group were “not engaging.” He and his fellow Wrong Brother, Logan Paul, did post a video to their YouTube page and podcast urging white people to “acknowledge and weaponize” their privilege, and calling people who don’t believe white privilege exists “delusional”, though, so maybe we don’t have to throw the whole man away.
.@factswithfiona stopped someone boarding up a store in Santa Monica so she could hold the drill for a picture, then drove away. The video is now all over influencer tea accts. She’s since gone private but said nothing pic.twitter.com/K23qssYl0x
— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) June 2, 2020
In Santa Monica, a white woman got exposed for posing with a drill in front of a boarded up storefront, doing a quick photo op to make it look as if she was helping, and then promptly leaving the scene, probably to go to brunch or something. According to CBSLA, the woman, who was later identified as Fiona Moriarty-McLaughlin, was a commentary writer at the conservative publication Washington Examiner before getting dismissed after the video went viral. (A Heavy article later referred to her as an intern. Burn.) Fiona posed with the power drill quickly while a man took her photo, before driving away in her black Mercedes, gabbing about her boyfriend being a good Instagram boyfriend. Lmfao. It’s so bad I almost want to think it’s performance art, for my own sanity. She ended up deleting her accounts, which is the correct response.
The Girl Who Took A Pic In Front Of A Smashed T-Mobile
I knew this would happen eventually pic.twitter.com/V3bB92iaPB
— influencersinthewild (@influencersitw) June 1, 2020
On @influencersinthewild, a young woman who has not been identified was captured on video posing in front of a smashed T-mobile, with her back to the camera, as a man took her picture. I’ve got to wonder what the caption on this post was going to be—I have a feeling it probably would have been about how “I support the right to peacefully protest but I just cannot stand by and watch innocent small businesses get destroyed”. What is even the use of taking or having a picture like this?? Do your 500 closest family and friends really need to see it? Why do you need to be in the picture at all?? Instagram boyfriends, please step up and refuse to let your girlfriends participate in this buffoonery.
Two Girls Who Pregamed and Went
Going to a protest right now is not like going to Coachella, or even the Women’s March—it requires strategic physical and mental preparation because there are risks of violence involved. What it definitely does not require is you putting on your cutest outfit, pregaming, and then heading out to take a few pictures with a homemade sign. And yet, that’s exactly what Instagram user @serafina.0 and her friend @tamella_kay did: they had a whole chat debating if they should go or not, decided to get drunk and then show up, but perhaps worst of all? They posted a screenshot of their convo to their Insta Stories (Close Friends, at least—smh, it be ya own close friends), probably thinking this convo made them sound quirky and cute.
Deadass fuck all these internet bitches forreal. pic.twitter.com/TYGncVS8P2
— leyahli (@goodgalbadrep) May 31, 2020
Well, it didn’t. @tamella_kay ended up deleting her account, and @serafina.0 went private.
It might sound like I’m just trying to drag influencers for the fun of it, but the truth is, attending a Black Lives Matter protest isn’t just like, a fun event to go to for clout or to say you went. Although the majority of protests have been peaceful, there is still a chance you could get hurt, given that police have acted violently towards protestors, firing rubber bullets, teargassing, and even driving police vehicles through crowds. Especially if you are attending as a white ally, you need to be prepared that you may be needed to use your body as a physical shield for Black protestors.
There are a lot of tips and resources for people attending protests out there, so I’ll just state a few that these influencers egregiously ignored. Number one, don’t pregame! You are going to need to have all your wits about you, and alcohol just makes you dumb and slow. Not to mention, it can make some people belligerent, which is extra dangerous if you’re going to be in a heated atmosphere in the presence of agitated police officers. Don’t wear contact lenses, wear comfortable shoes that you can walk in, and do not post videos or photos of protestors’ faces without their explicit permission. Maybe the one thing all these influencers got right is that you shouldn’t go alone and should go with a buddy or in a group if possible, but that’s about it. The bottom line is, it’s great to want to get involved, and do that if you feel comfortable and willing, but don’t do it for your Instagram aesthetic.
Stay safe if you are protesting, and if not, there are plenty of other ways you can help. You can donate to organizations or donate supplies to organizers, sign petitions, literally annoy the sh*t out of your local representatives, and more.
Influencers In The Wild (@influencersinthewild on Instagram and @influencersitw on Twitter) is doing a much more comprehensive job of covering people who are treating the Black Lives Matter protests like it’s Coachella 2020, so follow those accounts if you want more of influencers gone wrong.
Images: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com; jakepaul, taylorlorenz, influencersitw, goodgalbadrep / Twitter
In the ongoing hellscape known as reality, it was somehow a perfect encapsulation of 2020 to watch a random entitled white woman upgrade to her Ultimate Karen form by confronting, then attacking a Black man’s polite request with the promise of state-enforced violence. But while we were on the way to another boring episode of blameless white victimhood, something curious happened: consequences.
Let’s be honest: whenever the words “consequences” and “white” are part of the equation in this country, it’s usually a bad result for BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color). For pretty much ever, the costs of racism have been paid out by the victims. At any white whim, our lives could be disrupted, incarcerated or ended — without defense. Our homes, our jobs, our dreams: all of it could disappear in an instant, if it offended or obstructed the interests of white people.
In previous decades, this was the price paid by Emmett Till and the Exonerated Five. And considering the long and recent list of names from Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride to Atatiana Jefferson and George Floyd, not enough of that reality has changed.
It’s in that reality — the one where white discomfort is paid for in Black suffering — that Amy Cooper went viral. In the now ubiquitous video, Cooper escalated a simple dispute about basic decency (following the rules of Central Park) into a dramatic and theatrical performance of fragile white womanhood. Confronted about the lack of leash on her dog by avid birder and Black man, Christian Cooper (no relation), Amy took it into her head that the only appropriate response to this entirely reasonable demand was to act as if he had threatened to assault her and then call the police for her fake danger.
It was a moment of selfish, manipulative cruelty. It was an act of supreme and reflexive entitlement. It was a complete dick move. There was no redeeming value in her actions; nothing defensible or sympathetic. And in a rare move, reality agreed.
In about the time it takes to saturate Twitter feeds on Memorial Day, Amy Cooper had lost her job, her dog, and any shred of dignity. Former dog-walkers identified her; her employer disavowed her; her neighborhood rebuked her. As much as is possible in our divided age, we had consensus about the danger and the damage of Cooper’s actions, and moved to punish her for them. And in doing so, there was a validation of the perspectives and voices of Black people about the reality of our world and the nature of the pressures and threats we face.
In the isolation of pandemic, we have had to face the calculated disregard for Black lives without the distraction of daily life to buffer the pain. Ahmaud Arbery; Breonna Taylor; the same-day murder of George Floyd: these stories illuminated the endangerment that Amy Cooper was happy to invoke in contrast to the trifling frustration of having her entitlement called out. And so, when her punishment came through, there wasn’t a lot of equivocation; there wasn’t a lot of rationalization; there wasn’t a lot of the same terrible excuses we’ve heard a thousand times. Finally, the same racist energy that upends lives and steals futures came right back on the woman who sent it out into the world.
And she did send it. As pointed out across the internet, Amy Cooper knew what history she was invoking when she called 911 and screamed for a cop to come immediately to deal with the African-American man “threatening” her and her dog. She wasn’t thoughtlessly reacting or overcome by fear; she knew the costs of racism — fear, intimidation, exclusion, exploitation and death — and was trying to force Christian Cooper to pay them. She just didn’t expect that it could apply to her.
In the big picture, it’s not wild for her to believe that either. In the same way that BIPOC have largely borne the weight of racism, white people have largely escaped consequences. Depending on the white person, they’ve even flourished. Donald Trump is President of the United States after open and visible support of white supremacists, including hiring them as advisors. In the middle of a pandemic, there’s still no coordinated federal response to the reality that Black and brown citizens are losing their lives at an alarming rate, nor that we are the populations most endangered by sloppy and irresponsible reopening plans.
Culturally, Lana del Rey thinks she can throw shade at Beyoncé, while Colin Kaepernick entered yet another NFL season without a contract, as a guy with white supremacist tattoos celebrated getting drafted. If a well-off white lady in Central Park thinks that doing some racism is going to turn out ok for her, she’s usually right.
In another time, on another day, Amy Cooper could have done the same thing, and Christian Cooper would have had to survive the fallout. That’s how things usually go. That’s how things are for millions of Black people every day. Any given interracial interaction could cost us our whole lives, literally literally.
Before it cost her a living, a pet, and a sense of peace, Amy Cooper was fine with using that existential terror for her own ends. In the viral video, she didn’t react with shame and self-reflection when caught breaking the rules; she got more aggressive and reactionary for being rightly challenged. And she was willing to make Christian Cooper pay for that discomfort with his life.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to. Fortunately, her vindictive desire to ruin his life rebounded to ruin her own. Amy Cooper deserves to bear the costs that she tried to force others to pay, and we deserve to live in a world that makes her. Maybe this is enough to make her reconsider the impulses that led her to think that any of that was ok.
But more importantly, maybe this is enough to make society itself reconsider who should suffer for racism. Because as much as Amy Cooper probably hates her life right now, at least she still has one.
(Images: Shutterstock/ Melody Cooper)