How to Support the Black Lives Matter Movement and Become Anti-Racist
It's time to pay attention.
Yet again, the world is outraged at another black life lost. People are posting online, and the media is in a frenzy. Yet it wasn’t lost, it was forcibly taken. George Floyd is a Minnesota man who was killed while in police custody of four arresting officers, who have since been charged in the case. Floyd’s death sparked protests nationwide, with people demanding an end to racism and police reform. “The number of police killings in the United States disproportionately affects African Americans,” Al Jazeera reports. “Despite only making up 13 percent of the United States population, Black Americans are two-and-a-half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by the police.”
It’s high time everybody else caught up.
1. Do your own research
Don’t ask your black friends and family to explain racism to you. It’s not one person’s job to educate you on prejudice and it can be tiring as a person of color to constantly illuminate the world’s inequalities to people who are new to the struggle.
Google is an endlessly useful research tool and for any question you might think of, there’s bound to be a corresponding article or opinion to answer it. Similarly, the media you surround yourself with every day will have a lasting impact on the way you think and will go a long way in terms of education. Unfollow any brands that promote racist thinking and instead subscribe to positive, well-informed publications dedicated to shedding light on the struggles black people go through. A few resources: Gal-Dem, The Root, Blavity, Essence, and Mater Mea are great places to start. Also, make sure to follow influential black people on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter; @nowhitesaviors, @RachelCargle, @theslumflower, @zebablay, and @ebonyjanice to name but a few.
“There’s a difference between being a legitimate source of support and being egotistical in a quest to use the movement for your own needs”
As for reading, there are so many stimulating, informative, and even witty books that are devoted to creating a better world for black people which will hopefully provoke a sense of understanding. These are just some of our favorite essential reads:
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
2. Don’t make it about you
A common theme when hearing “black lives matter” is to respond with “all lives matter” which isn’t helpful to the cause and undermines the immediate fact that black lives are currently the ones in need of protection and justice. Recognize that all lives don’t matter until black lives matter—hence the need for such a movement. And while you are certainly encouraged to speak up in the face of injustice make sure you’re not drowning out the voice of a black person while you do it.
White and non-black people of color (POC) are needed as allies in the bid to end racism, but, there’s a difference between being a legitimate source of support and being egotistical in a quest to use the movement for your own needs. The term “white savior” has been attached to the latter way of thinking and it has often been ascribed to behavior such as “voluntourism”—when wealthy white people go abroad with the intention of doing good or appearing to help in villages in poor countries. While this may seem like a worthy use of time, the reality is that it perpetuates the stereotype that black people are in “need” of saving by white people. Most often, these situations result in flocks of paying tourists causing a loss of employment for local people in the area, images of “deprived” black children congregating around a white savior are used as social media bait, the children in question have to deal with short-term relationships instead of long-term support which can be damaging, a dependency is encouraged and tourists don’t have the skill sets needed to instill real change. And often well-intentioned funds are misdirected due to a lack of research.
A much healthier approach to help black communities is to start at home. First, ask yourself what your qualifications actually are for making a difference in a certain field, will what you’re doing confront the system of oppression rather than prop it up? It’s brilliant that you’ve woken up to the imbalances that plague the world but that doesn’t mean you’re immediately needed to fix them. Support local black-owned businesses, support black people who are already working to tear down racism, ask how (if at all) they might need your help. Get involved with your local community where you can stand by long-term to see a real change where you live and vote for the local politicians who you believe will make a difference for lower-income people, as the wealth gap between black and white Americans widens each year. When you do go abroad, enjoy your holiday, soak up the culture, and support local people by buying and eating locally.
“Apathy is a weapon and those who use it support racism”
Don’t post on social media frivolously. It can be an excellent tool for fighting causes you believe in but make sure you have done as much work as you can behind the scenes to combat racism—a post won’t save the world.
3. Know that you will make mistakes
Nobody gets everything right the first time around. To truly become a part of the higher change, white and non-black POC alike have to unlearn racist traditions, racist thoughts, and racist actions that they have been desensitized to. Just because you may not describe yourself as a racist person doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes say or do racially prejudiced things. In order to overcome these instances, it needs to be recognized that it’s not enough to say, “I’m not racist.” We must all realize that everyone has the potential to do harmful things—and then choose not to.
The more educated you stay on the topic, the more you’ll be able to recognize when you get something wrong, learn from it and not do it again.
4. To stay silent is to stay complicit
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” —Elie Wiesel
It’s not currently, and has never been, enough to simply “not be racist.” You have to be actively anti-racist in order to be on the right side of morality, and every time you don’t speak up in a time of need, those actions go excused. Whether something happens at work, school, at home, or among friends, call them out. Have purposeful uncomfortable conversations with your family about their views, talk about what goes on in the news, do everything you can to normalize talking about racism, and shut down people who err on the wrong side. Apathy is a weapon and those who use it support racism.
“The stark reality demands discomfort in exchange for growth”
It’s easy to think that because you have the option to ignore it, racism isn’t happening or doesn’t concern you, but it does. Racism isn’t the problem of black people; everyone has a duty to dismantle it.
5. Just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not real
If recognizing the privileges afforded to you as a white person makes you feel uncomfortable then it’s time to address why. Process why you’re experiencing feelings of guilt—it’s supposed to be sore to realize you’ve been part of a system that boosts you up by oppressing others, but it’s the stark reality that demands discomfort in exchange for growth. Our society is set up to cater to white people from seemingly minor things such as plaster colors, to huge, life-changing factors such as access to healthcare. The more minor aspects quickly add up to build a world where nothing is inclusive and the opposite side holds violence and death. Police brutality is one obvious standout, which doesn’t only happen in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe aren’t innocent either.
So, when a black person talks to you about everyday racism (the constant barrage of daily prejudices they face) believe them, and don’t excuse it. The best thing you can do at that moment is to just listen and take in the experiences they face.
A helpful exercise you can do on your own would be to jot down the moments in your life where you’ve profited from being white or a non-black POC. Then next to it write down how it came about; did you actively use your privilege to gain the upper hand over a black person/people? Where you supported as a result of a racist society? Once you’ve thought about that imagine how that might have made you feel if you were a black person looking in, would it seem fair, and would the road to success seem a lot longer than if you were white? Finally, write what you would do differently if it happened again, how would you succeed without treading on others, and what can you actively do now do ensure the playing field is level in the future?
6. Don’t expect praise
Wanting a pat on the back for something that should have been a priority long ago undermines any personal growth you may have had. Black people are not there to satisfy any need for the praise you may have nor should you seek it. Working to become a better person in the face of racial inequalities is admirable and you should be pleased that you’re working hard to not be part of the problem, but it’s also the bare minimum for human decency.
7. Other global issues go hand-in-hand with racism
Many global issues you choose to care about (environment, feminism, disability, poverty, LGBT+, etc) are not exempt from racist structures and in actuality are often worse for black people. Where mental health is concerned, studies have shown that suffering racist abuse can cause psychosis, PTSD, and depression which is a huge burden to bear when it’s noted that some black communities already have little mental health support and the subject is clouded in stigma.
Largely, you can assume that any social issue you care about has racism entwined with it, so make a point to research it, know how it affects that issue. And when protesting other injustices make sure not to take up so much space so as not to include black voices. POC must be heard.
8. Have a plan for the future
If you’re feeling suitably angry about how your black brothers and sisters are being treated, then don’t let that flame fade away. A month or a year from now, when the media has died down and life goes back to “normal”, is when the same energy you’re now giving is needed more than ever. Fighting this is not some overnight task, nor is it something black people can forget—so neither should you. Stay outraged, keep questioning society’s bad habits, don’t let it take another tragedy for you to comprehend the real disparities, and look after your black friends and family when they mourn the next murder of a black person.
If you plan to have children, what will you do to ensure you don’t teach them to hate? Surrounding learning minds with inclusive books, diverse culture, and instilling a mindset that is humble to the fact that they’ll be awarded privileges based on the color of their skin is paramount. It’s a huge responsibility to bring a child into this world—make sure they know how to love and support people of color.
It’s not enough just to seek to understand, you must also do. Protest, petition, write letters, post on social media, donate, speak up, check yourself, never stop.
If by the end of this list you feel exhausted by information and apprehensive about how much work there is still yet to do, that’s good. It means you’ve been listening. Black people have shouldered the burden of racism alone for far too long, welcome to the fight.
Here’s an essential starting list for worthy causes to donate to:
This isn’t an exhaustive list for allies—there are endless other ways to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement that you should continue to seek out.
For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.