How to Be A Good Ally To Your Black Friends

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Stacy Lee Kong

Jan 06 2021

11 mins read

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Friday fam, I do not think it will surprise you to hear that I don’t have very many celebrity-related thoughts this week. As much as I believe it’s important to discuss pop culture and celebrities (because those stories often have as much to say about who we are and what we value as a society as what’s happening in the news) sometimes, what’s happening in the news is what we should be discussing.

So, here’s who I’m thinking about this week:

Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman in Toronto who died after falling from her 24th-floor balcony on Wednesday. Her mother, Claudette Clayton, says police pushed her. The province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, is currently investigating, thanks to Black Torontonians who demanded answers on social media, and from their MPPs and other elected officials.

Tony McDade, a Black trans man who was a suspect in a fatal stabbing, was shot and killed by Tallahassee police on Wednesday—and misgendered in initial reporting on the incident.

George Floyd was killed on Monday by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck, depriving him of air, for five full minutes—even as he said, “I can’t breathe” and pleaded for his life.

Christian Cooper, who narrowly escaped an altercation with New York police on Monday, after a white woman named Amy Cooper (no relation) called 911—making sure to stress that an African American man was threatening her—because he asked her to put her dog’s leash back on.

Breonna Taylor, a Black EMT in Kentucky who was shot at least eight times by police—after they broke into her home with a battering ram on March 13.

Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, in February. He passed their home while out for a run and when they spotted him, they say they thought he was a suspect in a spate of break-ins in the area, so they threw their guns into their truck and went hunting. (There had been no reported break-ins in the area. Of course.)

I’m also thinking about what we can actually do.

For basically all of history, our Black friends, Black family members and Black people who we don’t even know have borne the burden of proving their humanity. We have overwhelmingly allowed Black people to do the work of dismantling white supremacy—and then we have characterized their work as distasteful and overreaching, whether that is Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem or the Minneapolis residents literally risking their lives to protest. (It’s still a pandemic, remember.) This is not to discount the work that non-Black people of colour, Indigenous people and white people have done to build a more equitable society, but it is to state clearly that we still have more work to do, both publicly and privately, to unlearn anti-Blackness.

So, let’s talk about what it actually looks like to be a good ally. I’ve outlined what I think are the most important things we can do as non-Black POC, Indigenous or white people in Canada, as well as some surprising ways you can contribute to a more just society. I was inspired by Corinne Shutack’s 2017 Medium post, “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice”, which has been making the rounds on my feeds this week. There’s lots of great advice in there, but it skews American, so I did some research to offer a Canadian perspective. I’ve also linked to additional resources at the bottom of this newsletter.

React with compassion

Psychologist Susan Silk developed a technique she calls Ring Theory to help people avoid saying the wrong thing to people who are going through difficult times. When she wrote about it in the LA Times in 2013, her examples were herself (she had breast cancer) and her friend Katie, who had an aneurysm, but I think it’s super useful in this context, too.

You start by drawing (or, okay, imagining) a circle. That’s your centre ring, and it’s where the name of the person experiencing trauma goes. Now draw a larger circle and write the names of people who are closest to them. Keep drawing as many rings as you need to, with each ring containing people who are one step removed from the trauma.

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“Here are the rules,” Silk wrote, at the time. “The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, ‘Life is unfair’ and ‘Why me?’ That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring. Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings. When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help.”

So, when we’re talking about anti-Black violence, Black people are in the centre ring. Non-Black POC and Indigenous people, who also face police brutality and systematic racism, though not always in the same ways, are one ring out. White people are one ring out from that. That doesn’t mean white people can’t talk about their sadness or guilt or anger—it has absolutely been a heavy week and if you’re a human being, you have feelings about it. It means you should be talking about your grief to other white people, but not to Black people, who are actually the ones experiencing this trauma.

Use the right words

Relatedly, please never tell a Black person that you’re shocked by racial violence. Just don’t. Because if you’re genuinely shocked, all you’re really saying is you haven’t been paying attention.

As Katie Anthony wrote earlier this week, a better response would be to “say ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I see you,’ or ‘that’s awful.’ Say something one human says to another human when they see their pain.”

I also really like Rachel Elizabeth Cargle’s recommendations:

“I’ve found an organization that helps in these types of instances and I’ve donated money.”

“I’ve brought this up to my coworkers and family so we can talk through what’s happening.”

“I’ve researched more on this and I have learned more about the history of this particular race issue we have in our country.”

Call out anti-Blackness when you see it

If my first two points were about how we speak to Black people about racial violence, this one is about how we speak to one another. White people have benefited the most from white supremacy, so white people have a responsibility to publicly speak out against anti-Blackness when you see it happening at work, in pop culture, when you’re out with your family and you see someone harassing a Black person. (To that end, this is a good guide to bystander intervention, so you can safely help de-escalate a situation without calling the police.)

And this isn’t just about what you say and do in public. It’s also about how you react to your racist uncle or grandma or cousin or high school BFF. (And this week of all weeks, let’s not pretend that they’re just old-fashioned and not racist, okay? I personally do not have the capacity to handle that particular bit of mental gymnastics, so if we could just skip it, that would be great.)

And specifically for non-Black POC—this is on us, too. Our family members and loved ones might also be racist, and no amount of loving Black culture or tweeting in support of Black people matters if we don’t address what’s happening at home.

Donate

If you can afford to donate to anti-racist charities right now, here are some places that could use the help:

Minnesota Freedom Fund, which is bailing out protestors who have been arrested in Minneapolis, or any of the organizations that MFF recommends.

The George Floyd Memorial Fund, which is organized by Floyd’s brother, Philonise. (There also another GoFundMe organized by his sister, Bridgett.)

Black Lives Matter Canada

FoodShare TO’s Emergency Good Food Box program

The Black Health Alliance

Let’s Talk Jails’ [Prisoner Emergency Support Fund] (https://www.gofundme.com/f/prisoner-emergency-support-fund)

The Black Business and Professional Association’s National Scholarship Fund

Please note: You definitely should not be donating to Shaun King.

Rethink your investments

Your money might have been invested in for-profit prisons without you even knowing—even in Canada, where we don’t have for-profit prisons (anymore). According to CBC, the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board owned more than $10 million in shares in two U.S. companies that run immigration detention centres (GEO Group and CoreCivic Inc.), before quietly divesting them at some point before July 2019. The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board also bought shares in Geo Group early last year, but divested them by April. And Alberta Investment Management Corp., a crown corporation that partially manages public servants’ pensions, had shares in both companies until divesting them in August 2019. Even if your money isn’t invested in for-profit prisons, it might still be invested in weapons manufacturers, fossil fuels and other industries that perpetuate anti-Blackness. So, it’s worth looking at your mutual funds’ holdings (or talking to your financial advisor). You can even move your money to a socially responsible fund, which has become more popular in recent years.

Advocate for justice reform

Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s inclusion of prison reform in his initial platform, little has actually been done to strike down mandatory minimum sentences and trial delays, both of which disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous people in Canada.

Also: not only does this country detain immigrants, we can (and do) imprison them indefinitely, even if they have not been charged with a crime. As the Tyee argued earlier this year, “we need to add independent oversight to [The Canada Border Services Agency], spend money on shelter systems instead of detention centres, stop detaining children, create a time limit, stop using prisons and work towards scrapping the system altogether.”

Contact your MP and Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, to express your support for meaningful reform.

Write to businesses that advertise in the Toronto Sun

This week’s insensitive front-page story about up-and-coming rapper Houdini’s murder is only the most recent example of the Sun’s racist and bigoted coverage. Taking a page from Stop Funding Hate, a U.K. organization that convinces advertisers to pull their ads (and ad dollars) from publications that “spread hate and division,” let’s tell the Ontario government, Bad Boy and Downsview Chrysler how disappointed we are that they’re funding the Sun’s racism.

Be honest with yourself

If you aren’t feeling outraged, frustrated, sad and scared, you need to ask yourself why. I can already tell you what the answer will be, though: it’s privilege. Even if you do feel these things, if you can put down your phone or navigate away from Twitter and go back to a “real life” where police brutality and racism doesn’t impact you or your loved ones, that’s privilege too. And it’s imperative you not just outwardly acknowledge that privilege, but also spend real time thinking about the ways that privilege shapes your behaviour. I don’t mean you need to constantly or publicly be self-flagellating. I mean, you need to understand the gaps in your knowledge and experience so you can teach yourself to see the things you’ve been missing.

And you should acknowledge this to yourself, too: unlearning racism is hard and uncomfortable, and you may not always feel good about it. That’s okay. Just don’t stop.

Resources:

Black Lives Matter Canada’s Demands

How to Be a Better Friend to Black Women by Alicia Cox Thomson

Anti-Racism Resources for White People by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa

Klein

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice by Corinne Shutack

5 Racist Anti-Racism Responses “Good” White Women Give to Viral Posts by Katie Anthony

Lastly, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and I would definitely appreciate your feedback and corrections. Reply to this email or send me a note at stacy@fridaythings.com and I’ll update the post on FridayThings.com.

And Did You Hear About…

This really beautiful profile of Steve Buscemi.

Lil Nas X’s collaboration with Elmo.

The most famous cult leader on TikTok.

Vulture’s oral history of Rihanna’s breakthrough single, Pon De Replay.

A super thoughtful take on Kim Kardashian and race.

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