Dear Ally: What Your Black Friends Want You to Know

Dear Ally: What Your Black Friends Want You to Know (Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Atlanta, GAThe recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have set in motion protests and riots around the nation. There's a global conversation happening, and for some, the right thing to say doesn't come easily.  

African Americans have fought against systemic racism, microaggressions and police brutality for decades. As these issues suddenly become a mainstream crisis, it is somewhat exhausting for African Americans. Some wonder why it took so long for non-Blacks to pay attention. Others are just tapped out and don't have the energy to comfort or educate potential allies. 

In the days following Floyd's death, many African Americans were inundated with messages from non-Black friends and co-workers. Many took to social media to express their frustration.

While the text messages, emails and social media DMs are appreciated, for some, it's overwhelming, experts say. 

"As Black people, we're grieving," said Allison Curry, a Los Angeles-based youth educator. "This has been going on for years, but we're still fighting." 

If you're hoping to be an ally to your Black friends and co-workers, we've put together some tips for the support that goes beyond the "How are you?" text messages. 

Think before you to reach out

Dr. Kali D. Cyrus, a Washington, D.C.-based psychiatrist, posted a Youtube video titled "13 Reasons Why You Should Pause Before Asking Black Friends, Colleagues and Humans How They Feel Right Now." 

She explains that some Black people don't even know how they feel, so trying to explain it to someone who can't relate, isn't a priority. 

Before starting the dialogue, consider your relationship with the person. Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis, a psychologist and minister, suggests that white people be prepared to listen, learn and not "make the movement about you."

"Show up with humility and respect," Bryant-Davis said. 

Lean into the discomfort 

Don't expect Black people to alter their message or tell half of their stories so that white people feel comfortable. According to Dr. Kimani Norrington-Sands, a clinical psychologist, African Americans are always in "survival mode." She believes white Americans know about racism and discrimination but often don't do anything about it. Accountability isn't always comfortable, but it's a necessary step to take, she suggests. 

Be anti-racist  

Non-Black allies should actively fight against racism, implicit bias and prejudice. Being a silent witness can have the same effect as a willing participant, experts say. Young activists and allies should not be afraid to fight, Curry said. "If we don't push the envelope, nothing will change," she said. She also urges her students to remember that this work is a "lifetime commitment."

Educate yourself

It's irresponsible to rely on others to do the heavy educational lifting for you. There are plenty of resources to help you understand systemic racism, the civil rights movement and the continued police brutality against African Americans.

While "The Help" — a movie based on the experiences of Black southern housekeepers — was recently trending on Netflix, there are many other options you need to consider. Netflix and Hulu have curated collections of Black content for viewers. Just Mercy, a movie about civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, is streaming for free.

Browse the website Your Black Friends are Busy. It offers tons of resources to learn about anti-racism and support various organizations.

Once the country fully reopens from the COVID-19 quarantine, consider a visit to The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, the Civil Rights Museum or the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Also, check out the New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Best Sellers for books like "So You Want to Talk About Race," "The New Jim Crow" and "Born a Crime."  

Don't let your outrage end here 

Racial inequality isn't limited to our criminal justice system — it also exists in education, healthcare, employment and housing. Bryant-Davis urges Black allies to "train their own eyes to see that racism comes in all forms so that the outrage is not limited to murder." When the protests end, there is still work to do. Speak up at work, educate your peers and check your own implicit bias, she said.  

Experts agree that the work of dismantling racist structures is a commitment. Allyship isn't a fad or a 30-day challenge. If you genuinely want to be an ally, recognize that this isn't just a moment for Black people, try to use your privilege to make it a movement.  

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