Jun 11th, 2020, 08:17 PM

Allies and the Black Community

By Husam Ibrahim
Image Credit: The Index
Black students describe what they’re looking for in an ally, while allies explain their views and contributions.

Mass protests are taking place around the world, all sparked by a video of George Floyd, a Black man being murdered by the police. This enraged the Black community and others too as the incident showcased the prejudice and institutionalized racism that plagues not only the policing system but also political and news institutions in America. The fight against a system deeply in need of reform requires people from outside the Black community too. 

I interviewed Black American students: Waldell Goode, 26 year old author and graduate student at AUP, Liela Roker, a 21 year old journalism undergraduate at AUP, and Lauren Williams, graduate student at Columbia University Journalism School/AUP alumni about what they're looking for in an ally for their community. 

Do you have anything you’d like to voice about the current situation of police brutality against your community? 

Goode: There is no “current” situation. It is: The situation. To imply it is “current” would imply there are timely aspects concerning what’s prevailing in society; there are none. Only stagnant aspects remain.

Williams: Police brutality isn’t new in America— but the recent video with George Floyd has made the situation impossible to ignore. I’m glad that people are starting to take action, but I just hope it continues. Racism and prejudice are ingrained in the United States, and I hope the current moment helps people realize that as well. 

Roker: It’s been a larger spanning issue than just these incidents, but I think for many non-Black people, they’re just beginning to learn how deep systemic racism is and that most minorities encounter racism everyday. This has been a longstanding issue and I just think it’s just shocking to many that the fight for equality has been nearly 400 years in the making.

What do you think the role of an ally is AND do you think they are important, if so, why? 

Roker: I think an ally’s job is to listen to the problems and concerns of minority communities, and amplify their voices. I do think it’s an important role since Black people still aren’t prevalent within all social circles. Allies have the potential to have these conversations with family members who aren’t BLM supporters. I think it’s important to note that the role of the ally is being a ​supporter. I​ think they have to understand that while they’re on our side, it’s important to inform themselves about how Black people want this help.

Goode: There is no such thing as an ally. Are you gonna do the good thing or not? If you are alive, are aware, are well enough and able to, then just do the good thing. “Ally” may also be construed as an elitist term. Many leaders instead ask on a basic, human level: how may I be of service today?

Williams: The role of an ally is just to speak up when they see something wrong and support the Black community. They are important, it’s also important to not speak for a community that you aren’t a part of. 

What are you looking for in an ally for the Black community?

Williams: Someone that’s learning and willing to acknowledge the racism in their own communities. It’s not cool to pretend like you/your family is perfect and pure but it’s the “others.” When you grow up in a society as racist as America is, it’s impossible not to internalize some forms of prejudice or racism.

Roker: What I look for in allies is that they’re doing their part to keep themselves informed. It’s also important to remember this movement is Black Lives Matter, so make sure you’re amplifying Black voices, not only ally voices. Find ways to support Black businesses and tastemakers right now. Make sure you’re supporting companies with moral integrity.

Goode: Are you aware? Are you learning? Are you just? Are you kind? Will you support the plight and policy of Black peoples, even if that means specific advantageous legislation directed solely toward the Black community (meaning American descendants of slavery)? 

Again, I take issue with the term, “ally,” but if the term is a communicative necessity at this time - then whatever moves this conversation, the moment and the movement forward.  

Why do you think some white/people of color are against the BLM movement? Would you simplify it down to just racism or is there more to it than that? 

Goode: They are either racist or ignorant. They don’t get a pass for either. The information has always been available to them, and if they are only becoming aware now, they should seriously rethink why indignity and human cruelty only affected their sense of humility once a pandemic stripped privileges from their access. I can go to palates? Oh look, that Black Man can’t breathe. #America

Roker: I think many people’s responses were reflective of their attitudes before the Black lives matter movement, but there are exceptions. I’ve noticed some people that have been very silent, which I think is not okay when they live in America and can turn on the news and see that it’s so divided right now. I definitely have unfollowed some people that have chosen to ignore this issue. I’ve also seen some people that I considered to be racist on a microaggressive scale support the movement. I think it’s complicated because anyone can share posts and retweet calls to action, but it really comes down to whether people are signing petitions, protesting, donating and really trying to affect change.

Are you personally happy with the non-Black people you know and their reaction during this time and with the BLM movement in general? 

Goode: No, unless it’s the same individuals who were agreeably outspoken before. We’re American, and you fell down on the job. Back to work. 

Williams: This moment has created some of the most public outcry that I have seen from people in my life. But, I do think that a good chunk of people in my life just feel pressured to post something and aren’t actually working on themselves or the people around them. At this point though, that’s beyond me. I’ve stopped caring and have decided to put my focus into doing as much as I can and surrounding myself with people who I know are doing the same. 


I also interviewed white allies: Kira Winter, a 21 year old German psychology student at AUP, two Americans, 21 year old business student at Paris School of Business, Patrick Bly and Brendan Sherlock, a 21 year old politics and law student at AUP.   

What makes you want to stand up for the Black community?

Sherlock: To me it’s not about want, it’s not about choice, it simply isn’t optional. It’s something that my humanity tells me must be done, it’s just the right thing to do. Other human beings are being murdered in a systematic manner that should not be acceptable to anyone on the basis of their own humanity.

Winter: There’s an obvious injustice and inequality in the treatment of the Black community, such as the obstacles and hardships they face in contrast to my privileged self. I believe in human rights and equality, so, therefore I must stand up for the Black community, that isn’t receiving these things. If you care about others, you should care about the Black community. All lives don’t matter until Black lives do.

Bly: The decision to stand up arises from both a logical and emotional place. Systemic and institutionalized racism isn't difficult to see, provided one is in the right environment that doesn't inhibit access to information and education. It is too easy as a white American man to ignore issues, convenient even. But I have a growing realization that these behaviors are not uniquely American, and an unavoidable anvil of inherited guilt located directly in the pit of my stomach make being silent impossible. I stand up for the Black community because doing any less would be immoral.

What do you think the role of an ally is in the BLM movement? 

Sherlock: To stand behind the Black community and support them, amplify their voices without overtaking the message, recognize your privilege and racist tendencies (and use the former to defend BLM and the latter address in yourself) and to stay educated. Donating, signing petitions, disseminating information, protesting and listening to Black stories are all important roles that allies must take on in these times.

Winter: I see myself as a guest in their movement, as a supporter and amplifier of their voices. That comes along with the responsibility to not tolerate any racism, no matter how subtle or “accepted” we have let it become. This is my time to have hard conversations, check my own privilege, and listen to what the Black community needs from me. 

Bly: As a white ally of the BLM movement I take my role seriously. Like a spy who has infiltrated the enemy lines, I come from a position of trust to many of those against the movement, often due to nothing more than the paleness of my skin. bell hooks, an American author is a huge role model of mine and she said something that resonated with me. To paraphrase, she said that it's the tough conversations with the people you love that changes the world.

In order to help illustrate ways of helping the BLM movement, could you talk about what you have done to support it? 

Winter: I have been to two protests so far, signed petitions regarding injustice or new laws being passed, and donated to various foundations including the Minnesota Freedom Fund, the Black Vision Collective, and the Loveland Foundation. I have checked in with all of my family members to make sure they understand what is happening and encouraged them to donate as well. 

Bly: I've been trying to show appreciation and love for all of the Black culture I have so happily consumed. While I do think that’s valuable it's certainly not going to be busting down any systems of oppression anytime soon. My main goal is to protest here in Paris as much as possible, post as much as I can and really modify my own behavior to be as vocal as possible moving forward. I want to post and protest about every injustice I come across, until we see real police reform and statistically supported results. 

Sherlock: I’ve made donations to bail funds and memorial funds (both are important), I’ve protested, I’ve signed petitions and written letters, and I’ve sat with my Black friends and listened. 

Why do you think white/other people of color are against the movement? 

Sherlock: I think it boils down to racism but not just the outright racists are against this movement. There are levels to racism embedded in our society, and the ignorant majority is unaware how much this has impacted their world views. It comes down to not only racism itself but the unwillingness of these individuals to face their racist tendencies and destroy them through constant work of dismantling these thought processes we’ve been raised with. 

Winter: I believe that a big role in all of this is the selective empathy that is systemically encouraged. This selectivity teaches that only certain groups or people are entitled to your empathy, while the rest are portrayed as a dehumanized and sub-human “other”. The mistreatment and categorization of this group becomes accepted and the structures in place are deemed invincible, so white/other POC can avoid the confrontation with themselves, their past and their community and live in blissful denial about the pain and injustice these structures are causing. Right now is about declaring these structures as false and participating in the re-negotiations taking place to undermine them. 

Bly: I think a lot of it is racism but not all. I know a lot of people that think their prejudices are benign. Denial plays into that a lot, and if you don’t accept that there is a problem in the first place, you don't have to reflect on any of your own past actions. A lack of substantial education is crippling. I haven't met many racists that don't sound like bumbling idiots in a conversation. The system relies on ignorance and I think there are many people remaining willfully ignorant in order to deny any personal wrongdoing. 

Have you had conversations with people who are against the movement? If so, what did you tell them?

Bly: I haven't yet as these conversations would be with people back home. I've actually avoided calls with my Mom because I'm worried she's going to attack me for it. Hey, I'm not perfect. There's never a 'great time' to get into a heated discussion with your Mom. I think the biggest conversations are still ahead of me when I go home next, and in person. 

Winter: I made sure to check in with everyone who’s important to me a long time ago about their views when it comes to race or other forms of intersectionality, so I’ve been able to form a supportive community around me that is as outraged as I am about the injustice we are and have been witnessing for a long time. 

Sherlock: Most conversations with people against the movement involve people that hear about Black Lives Matter and feel inclined to respond with all lives matter, or people who are more focused on rioters and looters than on actual protesters. For the all lives matter situation I tend to respond with the analogy of a burning house. If there’s a house on fire you don’t go to every other house in the neighborhood with water first because “all houses matter”. You put out the fire that’s currently burning. The fire is burning in the Black community and it needs our attention and focus. No one said your house doesn’t matter. No one said your life doesn’t matter, it’s just not actively endangered right now. As far as those who respond to these protests turning violent or leading to destruction, I share videos showing that the protesters are often the ones trying to stop the looting, videos showing that there are many cases in which police have been the ones to start the looting and destruction (and even more where police are getting violent and brutal with peaceful protesters who are not getting violent back), and videos showing that most of the destruction is coming at the hands of teenaged white boys who are just taking advantage of the opportunity for chaos, completely forsaking the movement and the cause for their own selfish enjoyment. Misinformation is everywhere and willful ignorance is an immense problem in today’s society. Continuing to show the truth (and these videos don’t lie) is essential to combating this ignorance.