written by Kamala Avila-Salmon
Yesterday, I heard a line that I just can’t stop thinking about. “White people are acting like Black people just came out.” It’s laugh-out-loud funny but of course it’s not. If you don’t get it, let me explain.
Think of the last time a big Avengers movie or a new iPhone or the last surprise Beyoncé album came out. There was a FRENZY!! It was all anyone could talk about, online or IRL. People would camp out around the country to get a ticket or to buy the phone or in the case of the album, just listen to it 24/7 for weeks. Every news story is about the new hot thing that just came out. This is what Black people are feeling right now. It’s like we JUST CAME OUT. The volume of interest in racial justice and ending police brutality and systemic racism and looking at corporate policies on inclusion and saying #BlackLivesMatter has never been higher. Juneteenth is the new cool holiday, despite being a thing for 155 years at this point. Four weeks after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Amy Cooper/Christian Cooper, non-Black people still seem interested in talking about race and many are still out marching. It’s kind of mind-blowing. It’s lasted longer than I’ve seen any similar moments last before. It has surprised me everyday and on good days, even made me optimistic.
But here’s the thing about things that “just came out”- the frenzy tends to fade fast. 6 weeks after Lemonade came out, there were still a few loud corners of the internet raving about it but everybody else moved on. 3 months after everyone say Avengers Endgame, it was all but forgotten. 6 months after the new iPhone came out, the media attention had moved way on. I don’t know how long it will take but this moment of #BLACKLIVESMATTER all caps will pass at some point. For much of the last month, I’ve been worried about this but honestly, it’s unavoidable. We can only live at a fever-pitch for so long. So at this point, I think we’d better just start preparing for what’s next. How do we make sure that this time is actually different? That though the volume may change, the #BlackLivesMatter movement remains a societal refrain, something as indisputable as the fact that while Lemonade is a pretty old album, it’s still a treasured classic?
In order for anti-racism to become a way of life for you and not just a hashtag, you have to spend time REALLY thinking about your place in our White supremacist world order and it needs to make you very uncomfortable. If you’re a newer non-Black and especially White ally, you might be feeling some kind of way right now. Black people (like this one!) have been very vocal about the fact that we’re a bit leery of your newfound #BLM hobby. That’s because we don’t want to be the latest fad. When we see all these new people showing up, it brings into sharp relief just how silent you’ve been to our cries for justice before. What if I told you that the fight for Black lives precedes George Floyd and Breonna Taylor? That the pain you are feeling now at those stories is one the Black community has felt again and again, during all those stories of unarmed Black people killed by police and vigilantes that consumed our minds while you never even deigned to mention them the whole time we were your friends, your coworkers, maybe even your family members? It is pretty destabilizing to feel like you’re only just really listening now because it means you were not listening then. Honestly, it hurts and it may even make some of us pretty mad.
Here’s what I want you to reflect on- THIS IS A FAIR REACTION and the skepticism you are feeling, you have earned. This is when you need to really lean in to the reflection part of the funnel. Really ponder why you’ve never felt comfortable saying #BlackLivesMatter at work before? Why you’ve been okay with the fact that you have hired almost no Black people at your job and that there are of course almost no Black leaders there? Why you’ve never talked to your kids about race and anti-Blackness and why your parents probably never talked to you? Think about why we have statues around the nation of people who wanted to extend my enslavement but far fewer statues of the Black people who fought to make our founding national principles true. Find out where your family was during the Civil Rights movement and think about where you’ve been during this one up until this very moment. Unpack White privilege and White fragility and make yourself very, very uncomfortable with your own silence and complicity. This is the work.
The secret to making sure this is not just a fad for you is to be genuinely, irreversibly rattled from the inside out in a way that changes you and makes it so that you can’t possibly go back to business-as-usual. You need to really know better so you can actually #DoBetter.
I don’t know how much longer we will have the eyes of the world on this movement, when the next distraction will come. For all we know, it’s right around the corner as I’m hearing that COVID-19 numbers around the country are nearing the levels they were at when we first shut down. (Also: why are we reopening??) Before this moment passes, here are some things you can do to make sure, you are a forever kind of ally, not just a temporary fan of the movement.
1. COMMIT TO EDUCATION. I’ve mentioned a lot of areas of exploration above. Don’t let your curiosity about them expire with this post. American society and systems are structured to make sure you don’t have the information you need to fight racism or even to see it. There’s a reason you never learned about #Juneteenth till now. If you are a White person, the only way you could possibly know enough right now is if you were already a critical race theory scholar. Otherwise, you’re behind. By a lot. CATCH UP! Read White Fragility, cover to cover, and also Stamped from the Beginning, and The New Jim Crow, and all the brilliant books topping the NYT bestseller list right now. Start a book club with other non-Black friends to get through them all. When the media moves on from #BLM, you should still be reading and learning. And should go without saying, you can’t be anti-racist if you haven’t read the book.
2. DIVERSIFY YOUR MEDIA SOURCES. If you do an audit of how you have gotten your news to this point, you will find that they are probably disgustingly White. That needs to end. The NYT is great but can you start reading The Root and The Grio too? Keep listening to The Daily but add Code Switch and It’s Been A Minute. Whatever your industry is, whether it’s media, tech, CPG, consulting, find the Black voices who are discussing it and start following them. On social media, you should have started following Rachel Cargle and Patrisse Cullors and DeRay McKesson and many other Black voices leading this discussion by now. You need to consume a diverse diet of Black voices. Long after the media moves on, these voices will still be talking about race in ways you need to hear.
3. BECOME UNCOMFORTABLE IN ALL-WHITE SPACES. This includes your personal life. Start questioning why your neighborhood and schools are all-White and asking those questions all loud and then figuring out what you can do to change this. What’s really happening at your company that’s committed to diversity and inclusion but can’t hire more than one non-White person a quarter? Where can you push? That moms group you’re in? Is it a little too White for the diverse city you’re living in? Why is that? You need to become deeply skeptical of all-White spaces because more often than not, this homogeneity happens by design, not by accident. Question everything.
4. INVEST IN BLACK PEOPLE. One question I’ve had throughout this moment has been, how many people with #BLM profile frames and status messages actually have a Black friend? How many have 2? How many mentor Black people in their workplace? Let’s just say, if this was a prerequisite, many of you would have to turn in your #BLM badges. If you really want to be in this fight for the long-haul, if Black lives really matter to you, so should Black coworkers and Black friends. You can’t be broken over George Floyd and have never hired a Black person yourself if you’re a team leader. That won’t cut it. One of the memorable parts of the book, White Fragility, is Robin’s claim that a clear marker of our investment in White supremacy is the unchecked narrative that one can live in an all-White neighborhood and go to all-White schools and have all-White friends your whole life and lose nothing of value by never having relationships with people of color. Think about how messed up that is. I have a LOT of White friends, many quite close. Of that, I think I have 2 White friends of whom I am certain that I am not their “one Black friend”. TWO. You can feel how you feel about that but don’t think it doesn’t matter. Your commitment to honoring lost Black lives will ultimately be measured by your commitment to living Black people.
5. BUILD IN ACCOUNTABILITY. In your journey to getting through reflection to lived anti-racism, you will stumble. Undoubtedly. What matters is what you will do when that happens. You can’t expect to live in a racist society that centers Whiteness and not continue to have racial blinders on. Do you have a friend that can lovingly check you? Can you be a person that people of color know welcomes feedback on this issue? If I see you unintentionally participating in White supremacy or anti-Blackness, can I tell you or nah? Will I risk you never talking to me again and biting my head off and telling me I’m actually the one being racist for thinking you were? Many people can’t do this because we’ve been taught that being called racist is the worst thing that could ever happen to us and we must avoid it at all costs. But we live in a racist world so OF COURSE racism seeps in to influence us. Own that and seek accountability. Have a monthly calendar check to remind you to be disrupting White supremacy for the rest of your life. Maybe get a non-Black partner to go on the journey with and keep each other focused. And yeah, if you do #4 right, you’ll have people in your life that can tell you how you’re doing.
6. KEEP TALKING ABOUT RACE. Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than talking about race but now, finally, this conversation as begun, in places where it never existed before. Corporate boardrooms, all-White FB groups, family dinner tables, and more. This moment will not last forever but the dialogues that have begun now absolutely can and should. If you follow me on Facebook or IG, I will be so join me there. But also start some of your own. Everyone needs to get off the bench and in the game for this movement to be sustainable.
I’ll leave you with my Allyship Journey. It pulls from the marketing conversion funnel, which is framed as awareness → consideration → purchase. This journey is not about buying anything. This is about showing up thoughtfully and ACTIVELY as an anti-racist. This word is flying around but it is not a Facebook post or hashtag. It has meaning and you need to get this right. It’s great that you are now AWARE, it makes sense to feel both SYMPATHY and EMPATHY, but you have to keep moving down the funnel. Empathy is not the goal here. You need to DO something. Push into REFLECTION as above and then move as quickly as possible into anti-racist action, a life journey of interrupting White supremacy wherever it shows up as often as it shows up.
This post is long but it shouldn’t be longer than your commitment to moving all the way to ANTIRACISM. All your Black friends and coworkers are watching with great interest to see how this all plays out.
Article originally posted on Medium.com