We are living in an era where the systemic racial inequality has once again come to the forefront through blood and violence. The death of George Floyd and the subsequent police brutality in response to peaceful protests have created an environment where Black people feel under attack by a hostile society.
For those of us who are trying to be allies to embattled communities, there is a lot we have to learn. We have to do our best to understand and empathize with people who have very different experiences than our own. We have to examine our history and the ideals that we've been taught. Being an ally means learning, growing, and applying our lessons into real-world actions.
Here are some basic actions you can take to help bolster your efforts to be a better partner in the fight for justice and quality. With gratitude to the Huffington Post for this list.
Listen to the Black people in your life without centering yourself in the conversation.
African Americans in the community suffer from generations of trauma and repression. The criminal use of excessive force from police departments around the country is just the tip of an iceberg of violence and repression. When people of color share their experiences with you, know that it's not your place to contradict, push for further painful details that they haven't offered, or center yourself in the stories. Just listen.
“Start with validating and acknowledging what is happening right now. Then, take it a step further and really listen to your friends, listen to their feelings, their thoughts and their emotions without judgment,” said Nicole Cammack, president and CEO of Black Mental Wellness in Washington, D.C.
Everyone is looking for connection and understanding, but white fragility ("discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice") makes it difficult for a lot of people to hear about injustice without feeling like they're being blamed.
Recognize when to back off.
These are traumatizing times and they bring up a lot of stressful emotions. Not everything can be processed by community and part of being a good ally is knowing when to give people the space they need to process what they're feeling.
“We’re all so emotionally traumatized and overwhelmed by everything right now,” explained Tasnim Sulaiman and Zakia Williams of Black Men Heal, a Pennsylvania-based organization that provides Black men with eight free psychotherapy sessions to begin their mental health journey. “The best thing that people can do for the Black community’s mental health is to give us the space to process our emotions.”
Support organizations that provide mental health to the black community.
This country's health care system has long struggled to meet the needs of the black community. But there are resources available. Groups like Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men, Loveland Therapy Fund, the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network’s Mental Health Fund, Black Men Heal and Black Mental Wellness have done incredible work filling in the gaps, but their work needs funding to continue and awareness to help reach the people they're trying to help.
“Any platform that directly connects Black people to mental health help is important,” said Naj Austin, founder and CEO of Ethel’s Club, a Brooklyn wellness and social club for people of color.
Don't pretend that everything is fine right now.
Pretending that there's nothing going on in the world looks very much like you're denying the damage that has been done and encouraging others to suppress their feelings.
“It’s traumatizing to be going through what we’re going through — and we’ve been going through it for many, many years. To have to show up in workspaces and have people not acknowledge the situation or pretend this trauma doesn’t exist is hurtful. And then you have to be pretend you’re not traumatized,” explained Tasnim Sulaiman and Zakia Williams of Black Men Heal, a Pennsylvania-based organization that provides Black men with eight free psychotherapy sessions to begin their mental health journey.
Join groups that promote diversity and inclusion.
Many diversity groups in academic or professional settings are almost overwhelmingly people of color, especially in places that are predominantly white. Get involved in those groups. Listen to the members, support their efforts to broaden inclusiveness in professional spaces, and learn how to be a more effective ally, supporter, and advocate.
“Allies could take some of that weight by educating themselves, taking appropriate trainings and speaking up so that it’s not always on the Black person to speak up,” Cammack said. “Look at systemic racist or oppressive things that happen within the job — look at the hiring process, disparities in pay or leadership, and think about how to look at this system-wide.”
Get political. Know the positions of your elected officials and the status of mental health laws.
The political is personal. Compassion on a personal level is always required but it needs to take place within a push for larger societal changes. There are many politicians that are actively working against social justice and health care for all, so it's up to you to commit to being an ally and defend people on a political level. It's especially important as this is an election year and we need to start dismantling the toxicity in our society by voting out an open white supremacist.
“Things need to be changed on an institutional, structural level — especially when it comes to mental health and the huge health disparities that exist for people of color,” Sulaiman and Williams said.“It’s important that you are paying attention to the people who you are voting for and the way in which they support mental health.”
Keep fighting long after this news cycle ends
There are lots of political causes that seem vital but eventually fall out of fashion. Change only happens when the momentum continues after the story stops dominating the news cycle.
“Continue being a part of the conversation,” Austin said. “I have a fear that this is a moment stamped in time and two months from now, white people and non-Black people of color won’t be talking about this — which is not the way to move forward. I would implore non-Black people to continue educating themselves, to continue donating and opening up their world to what we’re so used to already.”