History is part of our everyday lives. Memory is present, be it consciously or subconsciously, in people, places, and institutions. Ideas, thoughts, and behaviours are passed on from generation to generation, and can spread like rapid-fire, especially in our modern-day ultra-connected world.
The Black Lives Matter movement has rightly been at the forefront of the news and at the top of social media feeds these past few weeks, making it the largest civil rights movement to this date. Geographically speaking, at least 25 countries were involved in the protests, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Wales. I feel like there is a lot to say about this, so many topics which are part of the discourse on race, so many things which need to be spoken about and addressed.
It feels strange to be living through such historically significant times, when we are both in the midst of a pandemic and a global revolution – after all, it is easy to say that something was important after it has occurred, when we have the benefit of hindsight, but in the midst of such events themselves it can be challenging to remove oneself from them. Whilst I don’t feel ready to fully and accurately articulate myself on such major topics as the BLM movement, being silent is not an option in this case.
This is not simply a civil rights issue, it is a human rights issue, and whilst conversations and confrontations on such topics are often deemed ‘sensitive’ and too often avoided by some, the time has come for such stories to be told, listened to, and acted upon. I much prefer to have such (all) conversations in person, but want to specifically address the concept of active allyship in this post, and perhaps conversations can be sparked by it.
Allyship is defined as ‘an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group’. It is an ongoing solidarity, something one can act upon in everyday situations. It means actively seeking out knowledge on the oppressed, acknowledging privilege, taking into account the history of marginalised groups, having ‘difficult’ conversations with friends, family, and even strangers. It is working through subconscious prejudices you may not even be aware of, and actively undoing structural and institutional racism.
Active allyship differs completely from performative virtue signalling, when people may post a black square on Instagram but not really change anything in their daily realities. Human rights issues are never ‘solved’ overnight, or in a couple of weeks or months, or by a couple of laws. Biases and prejudices live on in people, just like memories do, and as humans we are given choices on how to act in certain situations, on what to address in conversations, on what things to create in our lives.
Extending this empathy can come in different forms, and everyone has different ways they can be active allies. Some may choose to be vocal on social media and share educational resources; others may attend protests in solidarity; others may sign petitions and write letters to influential/powerful people; others may donate to related funds and causes without necessarily telling everyone about this; others may educate themselves and reflect on how they could change their thought patterns and behaviours (and act upon this); others may have tough conversations with people around them. And this list can go on and on, as long as you are doing something and moving towards this much-needed and long-overdue systemic change.
Solidarity and movement gives strength, and sometimes to listen you need to be silent to fully understand the other person and let them know they have been heard.
Some resources I have read through/looked at these past few weeks (which is by no means an extensive list, and feel free to add anything in the comments):
Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race – this is an eye-opening book about institutional racism in the UK, and the country’s history with race.
13th, Netflix – a very well researched overview of police brutality in the US.
Dear White People, Netflix – a well-made, thought-provoking series about university life in the US which tackles topics like institutional racism, protests, free speech, amongst others.
Ask a Slave Series – witty, thought provoking comedic sketches based on real life interactions and conversations around race in the US.
We Need to Talk About Race, Declarations: The Human Rights Podcast, available on Spotify.
https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm – An informative website about the history of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
N.B. I am also aware these are mostly Anglocentric sources, and that ethnic minorities in other countries, including my home countries of Russia and the Netherlands, also suffer structural oppression, albeit with different historical and cultural contexts (another thing I am willing to expand on in conversation).