5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Be a Better BIPOC Ally
Sometimes, doing the work means looking at yourself and your actions first.
Inspired by months of racial injustice amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the US is finally having much-needed conversations about a topic many have willfully ignored for far too long: systemic racism and xenophobia. They're not new concepts by any means; America is largely a country built on racial inequalities. But recent horrific events—the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others at the hands of law enforcement; and an increase in hate crimes against Asian and Asian American citizens during the pandemic—have spurred more people to take a closer look at themselves and their actions.
For many, that means analyzing their own shortcomings in how they approach race, and fixing any blindspots they find. It's led those who support the fight against injustice to search for actionable ways to express their allyship to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color—BIPOC for short. (Generally speaking, the acronym is used as an umbrella term for all individuals who are non-white, who face racism and discrimination in a predominantly white culture.)
But it's one thing to claim to be an ally to BIPOC and another to be actively anti-racist and demonstrate true allyship. Now more than ever, it's imperative for allies to stand in solidarity with BIPOC and work to fight against racial injustice to create a safer, more comfortable, and more equitable environment for everyone. Here, you'll find five expert-sourced tips on how to begin, sustain, and continually reevaluate your allyship to make sure you're doing your part.
1. Acknowledge that everyone is racist—even you
If your goal is to be a better BIPOC ally, the first thing you need to realize is that racism is perpetually sown into society and that it reaches every single one of us. "We've internalized racism no matter who we are," Norissa Williams, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of Applied Psychology at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at NYU, and director of The Cultural Competence Institute, tells Health. Recognizing that everyone—no matter their skin color—has internalized racism is the first step in examining how racism has shaped your own life.
Once you've come to terms with the fact that we all grow up hearing and internalizing racist ideas, you can start asking yourself how you've contributed to those ideas and kept them alive in your own life, Williams says. A good starting point is simply asking yourself: To what degree am I complicit? "It's not if I'm racist; it's how I'm racist. We all are," Williams explains.
For white people asking themselves this question, it's essential to analyze their communication with people of color—and the emotions involved in that engagement. Specifically, if a white person is offended when a Person of Color points out a racist comment, it's important to unpack that, instead of reacting to it in a way that frames the Person of Color as an offender. You should be doing this "anytime your feathers have been ruffled because you've been challenged," Williams says. Rather than responding in an accusatory way, sit with the interaction and let the other person's words sink in. "The first step is to shut up," Williams says.
2. Educate yourself
You've likely seen the Instagram posts by now—those colorful infographics recommending books, movies, TV shows, and podcasts to those looking to expand their understanding and, ultimately, their commitment to allyship.
Luckily, there's no shortage in literature that can help you learn about the role that racism plays in the lives of BIPOC individuals. Russell Jeung, PhD, an Asian American Studies professor at San Francisco State University, recommends Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong, to learn more about racism inflicted on Asian Americans.
Williams recommends Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, by Audre Lorde. Williams also recommends listening to author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk called "The danger of a single story".
For more, check out this list from the New York Times, which features book recommendations from Black cultural figures.
3. Have challenging conversations
Too often, when white people decide to bolster their allyship, they immediately turn to people of color. But instead of turning to minority communities, it can be more effective to have hard conversations at your family dinner table or among other groups of white people. "Once [people] learn and develop a sense of allyship, they probably have the most effective voice within their white community, when whites challenge other whites on things that need to be challenged," Jeung says.
One way to make a difference is to call out racist comments that occur in these spaces, though it's important to realize a few things before you start doing this, Williams says. First of all, prepare yourself for pushback. "People have to know this comes at a consequence," Williams says. "People might devalue what you're saying." Williams emphasizes that you don't have to challenge someone's way of thinking in one sit-down. Rather, you can start small by, asking them a simple question when you hear them say something racist. This might look like following up their comment with: "Why would you say it like that?" or presenting them with facts that counter a racist claim they've made.
Going into these conversations, it's crucial to realize that you might not see immediate results. Williams likes to think of it this way: She might say something that plants a seed in someone's mind, while others on down the line cultivate that idea. In other words, your comments might not seem immediately effective, but if they move the needle, even a little bit, in challenging racist ideologies that have persisted for centuries, they're worth it.
4. Donate your money to the cause
According to the Institute for Policy Studies, it would take 228 years for Black families to earn the amount of wealth currently amassed by white families. "That's just 17 years shorter than the 245-year span of slavery in this country," a statement from the institute says. Because of this racial wealth gap, buying from or donating to businesses owned by BIPOC is an essential component of allyship.
Supporting these businesses serves multiple purposes, going far beyond boosting a company's profits. Jeung explains that populating Asian American communities by shopping in them helps elderly Asian Americans feel safer doing everyday things, like walking home alone at night. "The more we have people in the neighborhood, the more [our] elderly feel safe," he explains.
Williams adds that supporting Black-owned businesses helps to counter the ways in which Black Americans have always been placed at an economic disadvantage. "It's also about providing the opportunity to shift generational experiences [and] the ways in which they have been financially oppressed," she explains.
5. Continuously evaluate your allyship
Allyship isn't "finished" when you've checked off a list of to-dos like reading books on race, shopping at BIPOC-owned stores, or posting a message of support (or a black square) on social media. In order to be a good ally, you should continuously evaluate what you're doing to support BIPOC—and whether you're taking those actions for the right reasons.
While this evaluation is important, you shouldn't overthink it to the point of inaction, Jeung says, advising you "reach out as a fellow human, with empathy and humility," if you feel you need to say something to show your support of people of color. This is a great chance to reach out to your BIPOC friends to let them know you're an ally and offer your support—but keep in mind that, while close friends may appreciate this gesture, those who are just acquaintances may see it as performative.
Evaluating your actions doesn't have to be rocket science, Williams adds. It can be as simple as making sure you're not acting simply for show, which is sometimes referred to as performative allyship, by asking yourself: "Why am I doing this? Would I do it if no one was looking?" True allyship means always saying "yes" to that last question—even if no one else is around to see or feel your support, it doesn't mean it's not helpful.
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