We are halfway through Black History Month (BHM), and I feel like asking my white friends to lend me their Karen energy because I’d like to speak to the manager about a return.
I ordered this BHM as a celebration of Black contributions to the culture, arts, politics, and function of the United States and the North American continent. Instead, we’ve received the marginalization, erasure, and disrespect of those very same achievements. I’m not saying that we should get a bonus month to make up for it. But doesn’t it feel like somebody (white) should be fired for this?
At the lighter but most blatant end of the scale, let’s talk about the epic snub of Beyoncé for Artist of the Year at the Grammys. Winner Harry Styles topped off the shit sundae of this embarrassment with a cherry of oblivious self-regard when he said that “people like me” don’t usually receive these awards. Sir, you are a white cishetero man, and – all offense intended – you were three years old when Beyoncé signed her first recording deal.
It was outrageous. It was demeaning. It was flagrantly offensive to ignore a masterpiece of an album that revived and modernized a musical style created and defined by marginalized people after a quarter-century career of absolute bangers every. single. time.
It’s not just that I am a Beyoncé stan (though what else could any of us be). It’s the refusal to recognize how powerful, impactful, and incredible she is as an artist because she’s a Black woman buoyed first and foremost by Black women.
But, ok, that’s only culturally disrespectful. So Beyoncé doesn’t get a justly deserved award that implies she will never be good enough to win over the white establishment. She’s still selling out stadiums and taking our rent money and securing a meaningful legacy through her art. It’s not enough to throw the whole month away, surely? It’s not like Black history is being actively erased, right?
In Florida, weeping pustule and governor Ron DeSantis has effectively suppressed the teaching of Black history in his state via the hellacious Stop WOKE Act — with repercussions across the country.
In Florida, teachers are terrified to share even basic facts about the centuries’ long history of racial oppression in this country, whether it’s the basics of chattel slavery or the widely documented reality of segregation. But leaving the state’s children embarrassingly uneducated wasn’t enough for DeSantis, who coordinated with the College Board to eviscerate the proposed AP African-American History course that will be offered to students across the county. Gone are the Black queer theorists and thinkers; gone are the titans of racial self-reflection. Instead, I guess Black students can learn that their ancestors were happy and noble under oppressive regimes — if they’re even mentioned at all.
There is something deeply perverse in preventing Black speakers and scholars from telling our own stories in our own words during the time specifically set aside for that purpose. It is the only four weeks on the calendar when Black people are given permission to take up space in a society that usually demands our invisibility. That temporary presence in the discourse — on our terms, in our voices — has been instrumental in creating the progress that empowered Black people to fight for abolition, to endure the horrors of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, to stand up for our civil rights, and to reshape U.S. politics by being the driving force behind the first Black man to hold the presidency. Losing access to our moment to speak up and speak out isn’t just going to quash what Black people have already done, but what we still aspire to.
It’s here where I have to get into the heaviest and most heartbreaking event to mark this month: the funeral of Tyre Nichols.
The darkest parts of Black history – the fear, the uncertainty, the deprivation, the blatant and terrifying disregard of our humanity – is not history. It’s still happening.
As Tyre’s and other new names are added to the painful litany, the importance of Black History Month comes back into focus. In gathering to memorialize Tyre Nichols – his hopes, his dreams, his kindness, his impact, and all of the people left behind – we are reminded that we still have work to do. And not just Black people. All of us still have work to do to ensure that Black people feel safe and cherished, loved and venerated, respected and free.
That is the Black History Month I asked for: one where we are doing the work of making this nation a better place for Black people — by extension, everyone else.
So, to be clear, y’all have two weeks to fix this. And if you’re not sure where to begin the dismantling of centuries-old structural racism and pervasive, violent anti-Blackness…. Well, getting Renaissance World Tour tickets for your Black friends isn’t a bad start. (You can always find me @gothamgirlblue, to be clear.)
After 13 long years, we finally got our first Black Housewife on The Real Housewives of New York, Eboni K. Williams. I was so excited because I finally got to see a Black woman on one of my favorite shows ever. However, I quickly noticed that the fan reaction to Eboni being cast wasn’t necessarily about her and what she could bring to RHONY. Rather, people were excited that someone would call out the ignorance on the show. I had the same sentiment when Tiffany Moon was casted on The Real Housewives of Dallas and when Garcelle Beauvais was announced as a cast member on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Adding diversity isn’t going to automatically solve the ignorance within your shows, nor is it the responsibility of women of color to solve the issues for you.
Let’s be honest, Eboni, Garcelle, and Tiffany weren’t hired because they were close friends with the women on their respective shows. Bravo noticed that there was a severe diversity issue within the franchises. I mean, it’s not like people of color don’t exist in these cities, although many of the white women in these franchises have friend groups that are, for the most part, very, very, white. So, when you throw in a person of color, it’s bound to change the dynamic a bit. However, casting a woman of color for the sole purpose of diversity doesn’t do any justice for these shows, especially when their white castmates aren’t aware of their internalized ignorance.
Let’s take Garcelle Beauvais for example. Beauvais, an actress and talk show host, is the first Black woman ever to be cast on RHOBH, and many people, including myself, were very excited. RHOBH is known as the Housewives franchise that represents opulence, glamour, and women simply existing in luxury. It’s not often that you get to see a Black woman simply exist without stereotypes being pushed upon her. Beauvais seemed to feel disconnected with the ladies, though, and later stated that it was possibly because the ladies did not want to feel the wrath of Black social media had they come for her. (Also, yes, I know she missed some events, but Kyle Richards and Lisa Rinna have also missed events, and one complained then.)
Beauvais’ disconnect with Kyle Richards especially was a point of contention. Things got extremely heated between the two when Richards accused Beauvais of not paying a $5,000 donation. Beauvais was rightfully upset, especially since Richards waited until the reunion to bring this up. This was problematic because there is a common stereotype that Black people do not pay their bills on time or do not have as much money as they “flaunt. For Richards to bring up the donation not being paid in a public forum feeds into that stereotype. Does this make Kyle a racist? No. Did she subconsciously feed into a microaggression? Yes. But more than anything else, it shows me that the women, especially Kyle, did not get to know Garcelle on a personal level. Had Kyle done that, regardless of the tension between the two, she probably would have reached out to Garcelle directly to eradicate the issue at hand. Now, because she did not, the conversation about her microaggression had to be had.
Eboni K. Williams, an attorney and notable news anchor, joined RHONY as its first Black cast member. Eboni is brilliant, fashion-forward, and has a remarkable personal story. Yet, I felt like the only thing people wanted to talk about when she was announced to be on the show was her dynamic with Ramona Singer. Singer, who is known to be rather standoffish, came into controversy this past summer due to her COVID and All Lives Matter comments. While Singer did apologize, some people felt as though she was not reprimanded enough publicly. While Singer’s comments were reprehensible, it is not the responsibility of Williams to educate her. Williams has been asked constantly about her dynamic with Singer, rather than her whole dynamic with the cast itself. While the topic of race has come up this season, and personally, I think all of the women (so far) have done a great job of listening and wanting to learn. However, I do think there is something that needs to be pointed out. RHONY, for 12 years, centered around white women, so if Eboni makes a criticism or observation about her dynamic with white women—such as confronting Ramona about her comments on “the help” or sparring with Luann over supposedly implying the other ladies don’t have an education—it’s not so much a dig, more so her perspective as the only Black woman in a group with only white women. This might come as a culture shock to some of the women on the show and viewers; however, as a Black person who is sadly used to being the only Black person in a room, expressing our dismay or observations isn’t meant to start an issue, but to authentically express our feelings.
Dr. Tiffany Moon, an anesthesiologist and entrepreneur, is the first Asian woman cast on RHOD. Tiffany’s case is a bit different from Garcelle’s and Eboni’s. Dr. Moon was cast after the controversy surrounding cast member Brandi Redmond. Redmond came under fire after a racist video of hers resurfaced of her imitating and mocking Asian women. Suddenly, when Dr. Moon was cast, there was this unspoken pressure for her to speak to Redmond about this video. Why is that Tiffany’s responsibility? Why is it that the other cast members, with the exception of D’andra Simmons, coddled Redmond instead of publicly reprimanding her for her actions? It’s apparent to me that while Dr. Moon might have been someone the producers of the show were thinking of casting already, but it wasn’t until Redmond’s video that the actual casting took place.
Let’s make this clear. No matter how many conversations Tiffany has with Brandi, Brandi’s actions are still out there. Dr. Moon cannot be the “fix” for Redmond’s blatant racism. As a viewer, I felt terrible for Tiffany, especially with the constant microaggressions and racist remarks thrown in her face by castmate Kameron Westcott. Westcott compared Moon’s native food to dog food, a rather racist stereotype. Westcott also called Moon ignorant and implied that Moon was ignorant to her own race, and even as of recently, in a now-deleted tweet, Westcott compared a clown emoji that Moon used to “white-face”. It would be an understatement to say that Westcott has internalized racism towards Asian people. This is what happens when you cast people of color for the sake of meeting your diversity quota.
It is not the responsibility of people of color to educate white people on racism. To assume that casting Black, Brown, and Asian people on your shows is the ultimate fix to the racism issues within your cast is incredibly ignorant. Especially because this creates an awkward atmosphere between people of color and white people who obviously have different experiences. To leave the POC that you’ve casted out to dry, and unconsciously force them to educate white people, is not okay. This is a call for Bravo to use its resources to educate its talent on racial biases and stereotypes, especially being a network that celebrates inclusivity. Do not cast people of color just for the sake of casting them; it’s redundant and offensive.
Images: Sophy Holland, Jonathan Zizzo, John Tsiavis / Bravo; KamWestcott / Twitter
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 an Asian-American woman, I was embarrassed that it took me until late into the 2020 presidential election primaries to learn that Senator Kamala Harris is half South Asian.
The mainstream media had been primarily focused on the fact that she was a Black woman running for the highest position of office in the country. However, what has been way too often omitted from the coverage is her Indian heritage. Upon being named Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick on Tuesday, Senator Harris became the first Black woman and the first Indian-American, South Asian, and Asian-American person to be on a major party’s presidential ticket. All these factors contribute to the insurmountable significance of this historic vice-presidential nomination.
Senator Harris is a daughter of Shyamala Gopalan, an Indian-born doctor and activist, and Donald Harris, a Jamaican-born economist and activist. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and she and her sister Maya were raised primarily by Gopalan.
In her memoir The Truths We Hold, Harris mentions that her mother was her most significant influence. The family often visited India when she was young—her mother’s family “instilled us with pride in our South Asian roots,” Harris writes. Kamala Devi Harris shares her first name with a beloved Indian flower, a Hindu deity, and a Bihari river. Her middle name Devi means goddess in Hindu.
Yet, there are still some folks who might be surprised to discover Harris’ Indian-American identity.
During her 2010 bid for California attorney general, many in San Francisco’s Indian American community were surprised to learn about her Indian ancestry. Until this week, the media often omitted her South Asian identity and merely identified her as the first Black woman so-and-so. During the presidential primary race, reporters and analyzers seldom referred to Harris as the “Asian American candidate”–such title only went to Andrew Yang.
When the speakers were announced for next week’s Democratic National Convention, many claimed – incorrectly – that the event included no Asian American speakers. Kamala Harris’ name was clearly listed. (One person to represent an entire minority group is, of course, is far from adequate, and Yang has since been added to the line up as well.)
Even as a U.S.-born East Asian American, I never fully felt a part of the American culture while growing up. To this day, strangers underestimate my ability to understand and read English, even though I write for a living, and English was the first language I learned as a child. Growing up in a predominately white town, I was one of the few “oriental-looking” students (as teachers phrased it) in school. My childhood best friend was South Asian, and we initially bonded over the fact that we were always “othered” by our peers.
Coming of age during the aftermath of 9/11 and a few years later, the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, my Asian-American peers and I were seriously confused about our place in America. Bullied and named-called by our peers as a “terrorist” or “shooter,” it was challenging to grapple with our identities or ethnicities. America was the only place that we knew to call home, and so to be told to “go back to your own country” was so confusing and disheartening.
We would never have fathomed to see ourselves in the highest office. I get goosebumps just thinking about what this historic moment means to today’s kids who might be in similar shoes as I was back then.
Although there is no one right way to discuss or portray Harris’ identity, it does a massive disservice to her ancestors and the overall Asian-American community to completely ignore this aspect of her heritage and identity. To give attention to only her Black heritage feeds into the entrenched and outdated “one drop” rule from centuries ago, a practice that identifies and segregates people with the slightest African blood.
Harris herself has explicitly said that she doesn’t want to choose one identity over the other, but wishes to identify as simply American. However, from her childhood, when she was bused to another school district as a part of a desegregation plan, to her whole career as a politician where her Blackness has been a topic of contention, her racial identities have been at the center stage of public discourse.
We are far from being past Trump’s obscure obsession with birtherism, which has resurfaced again. In a news conference on Thursday, Trump wrongfully said that, “I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” It was a decade ago when he spread another race-based conspiracy theory that sowed mistrust in the background of another politician of color: President Obama.
Unfortunately, in today’s America, the reality is that anti-Blackness and the controversies of a biracial identity will continue to surface during the campaign trail.
The year 2020 has exposed the fact that most of America still doesn’t have the language or knowledge to speak about difficult racial topics, nor admit to the extreme level of white supremacy that still exists. Amid the outbreak of the coronavirus, hate crimes against Asian Americans have been at an ultimate high. Pundits (and our own President) have referred to Covid-19 as the “Wuhan flu,” “Chinese flu,” and “Kung flu.” In the following months, the brutal killing of George Floyd mobilized hundreds and thousands of people to protest against the overt racism and mistreatment against the BIPOC community.
Against this backdrop, we cannot afford not to explore the nuances of Kamala Harris’ identity and what her vice presidency would mean at the time in history we are at right now. Just like Barack Obama’s presidential win in 2008 was an unthinkable achievement, Kamala Harris’ hopeful VP win will illuminate similar sentiments for years to come. Over the next few months and years, the meaning of being an American in the 21st century must fundamentally develop into a new kind of paradigm.
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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
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)
This week in White Women Need to Sit the F*ck Down: Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the cops on Christian Cooper (no relation), a black man who asked her to put her dog on a leash, in an area of Central Park where dogs are required to be leashed.
Karen Amy Cooper was caught on camera, and the video of the incident has gone viral.
Christian Cooper recorded the video and has told news outlets that he began recording after he had asked Amy Cooper to put a leash on her dog. The two were in the Ramble, a designated area of Central park where dogs are required to be leashed so as to not disturb the birds. Christian was enjoying a morning of birdwatching.
In the video, Amy Cooper asks Christian Cooper not to record her, and walks towards him, her dog in one hand and its leash in another. Christian Cooper calmly asks her not to come close to him. Amy Cooper then threatens to call the cops and tell them “an African American man is threatening me.” She then proceeds to make the call, and tells the police that an “African American man” is threatening her and her dog.
Christian Cooper does neither of those things, but instead calmly continues filming while she repeats herself to the cops, each time with more and more feigned panic in her voice. Eventually, she puts the leash on her dog, Christian Cooper thanks her, and appears to walk away as he stops recording.
You can watch the full video, shared by Christian Cooper’s sister, here:
Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off leash in the famous Bramble in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash. pic.twitter.com/3YnzuATsDm
— Melody Cooper (@melodyMcooper) May 25, 2020
After the video went viral, a lot of people were pissed, rightfully so. A white woman threatening to call the cops on a person of color is essentially a death threat since we all know how police tend to handle situations like that. Getting shot by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America. Historically, white women feigning victimization in encounters with black men (and young boys) have lead to their deaths. Remember Emmett Till?
Amy Cooper weaponized her whiteness — fully aware of its lethal force — against Christian Cooper when she called the police. And all because he *checks notes* asked her to put her dog on a leash.
Both parties spoke to CNN about what happened before the recording. Amy Cooper told reporters that Christian Cooper came out of a bush, screaming at her about the leash. Christian Cooper says he was not screaming and was actually pretty calm.
I mean, seeing as the video shows Amy Cooper losing her ever-loving shit while Christian Cooper just kind of chills, I know who I believe.
After Amy refused to leash her dog, Christian said, “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.” Then he did what he meant by that, which was take out some dog treats from his pocket and feed them to her dog. Amy Cooper claimed that he threw the treats at her dog, but Christian Cooper denied that.
Christian explained to CNN that in his experience if you feed dog treats to an unleashed dog, the owner gets mad and finally puts a damn leash on the pup.
So, I guess “bird watching” and “feeding dogs treats” can be added to the list of things that white women will call the police on black men for.
Since the video surfaced, Amy Cooper was placed on administrative leave and then later fired by her place of employment, Franklin Templeton.
Following our internal review of the incident in Central Park yesterday, we have made the decision to terminate the employee involved, effective immediately. We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton.
— Franklin Templeton (@FTI_US) May 26, 2020
Amy Cooper told CNN she wanted to publicly apologize and also added, “I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way.” White woman caught on camera doing something racist then claims to not be racist. Groundbreaking.
In his comments to CNN, Christian Cooper said, “I videotaped it because I thought it was important to document things. Unfortunately we live in an era with things like Ahmaud Arbery, where black men are seen as targets. This woman thought she could exploit that to her advantage, and I wasn’t having it.”
In this instance, a white woman is experiencing the consequences of attempting to bring harm to a Black man by using her whiteness as a weapon. That is how this should go. Actions have consequences, and they often suck.
But you know what consequences would have sucked more? If Amy Cooper’s attempts were successful, and the police showed up to the scene with the understanding that a black man was threatening the life of a scared, defenseless white woman. Luckily, the person who actually deserved to suffer the consequences of her actions did in this case.
And, yes, Amy Cooper also mistreated her dog in this video, and has since surrendered it to the shelter she adopted it from. You shouldn’t choke your dog, but first and foremost, you shouldn’t be racist.
Images: Melody Cooper on Twitter