Editor’s Note: This article contains references to police brutality.
February is Black History Month, a month where we recognize the triumphs of Black people in this country, but also the role that non-Black people play in the continued oppression of Black communities from both an individual and systemic standpoint.
As a white person, my role in Black History Month is not to add to the narrative of Black experience in this country, but to listen to and learn about how that narrative has grown over time, and what I can do to be a better ally for the Black people within my own community.
Holding myself accountable is the first step to holding my other non-Black friends, family members and peers accountable as well. If I opt in favor of the excuse that Black History Month is not for me to get involved in as a white person, I am doing a disservice to the anti-racist movement I claim to support.
The Black stories and perspectives being shared this month are absolutely something I should be listening to and sharing, but I also shouldn’t be the only one in my circle doing so.
It isn’t enough to acknowledge that you have privilege due to your skin tone — you need to use that privilege to dismantle false and racist notions of Black experience in this country. Performativity does not mean anything when Black people are dying at the hands of police brutality and systemic racism every single day.
As allies, viewing ourselves as the exception to white supremacy actually furthers the narrative that we do not benefit from privilege, or from the comfort of being outside of the limelight.
This is part of the reason why a lot of non-Black people fail to talk about racial issues in a productive way. They want to seem like “one of the good ones,” so they warp racial issues and injustices to fit their own self-serving narrative.
This week, I have seen countless non-Black people talking about the death of Tyre Nichols online in a manner that separates the reality of police brutality from the reality of systemic racism. “The police that beat him were also Black,” they would say, as if it served as some shocking revelation about the Black Lives Matter movement they so eagerly claim to be a part of.
It is unacceptable that we require brutal reminders like the killing of Tyre Nichols to remember that police brutality is a byproduct of white supremacy — that no Black person who dies at the hands of the police is spared this grueling reality.
This month I challenge myself and every non-Black person reading this to reflect on what it means to practice anti-racism. Are you willing to acknowledge yourself as part of the problem? Are you willing to listen to Black stories this month without viewing yourself as inherently separate from the white supremacist systems they condemn?
Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. Break the patterns you so unthinkingly follow. Every little effort made to promote anti-racist movements, from partaking in mutual aid to shopping at Black-owned businesses, is a step in the right direction.
In the words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Black lives matter, and your allyship needs to support this statement through actions as well as words. Refusing to hold ourselves accountable as Black allies is deadly — and this is absolutely something that should discomfort you to the point of effective allyship.
Photo from Association for Psychological Science