Rian Roberson MA, LMHCA
Nine days after the murder of George Floyd, protests have emerged in all 50 states demanding accountability for unlawful death of yet another unarmed black person, following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breyonna Taylor in February and March.
After several increasingly tense months under quarantine, trapped inside our homes, and many of us struggling to make ends meet with mass unemployment and lack of financial support from the government, the nation reached it breaking point. Beginning on May 26th, the day after Floyd’s murder, protesters marched to the Minneapolis Police Department to voice their frustration with police violence.
As the protests have spread to every state, as well as several nations, the reality of systemic racism and need for change has inspired white allies to take action in support of black lives, many of them for the first time. However, many black and brown activists have been fighting for police accountability and systemic change for months, years, and decades without the support of white allies. For many black and brown activists, Floyd, Arbery, and Taylor are just more drops in an unending wave of black death, and many are already exhausted from years of protesting without support or significant systemic change.
New to the work, many well-meaning white activists have reached out to black and brown friends, family members, and acquaintances to check in, show solidarity, and sometimes showcase their efforts in the fight. As a black therapist who works with primarily POC clients, and runs a group for white allies, I would like to offer a perspective to help white allies avoid inflicting unintentional stress and pressure on black and brown people during this delicate time.
Being an ally means taking risks. You risk alienating yourself from white friends, family, and loved ones who may not understand the position you are choosing to take. You also risk making mistakes that may accidentally inflict harm on the communities you are trying to serve. In order to prevent causing accidental harm, it is understandable to want to reach out and check in with the black and brown people in your life, to make sure you’re not messing up. Humans are social creatures, and an expedient way to quell the anxiety of failure is to look for validation and reassurance from one’s community. This need for validation is exacerbated by intense feelings of shame that are an integral part of awakening to the reality of white privilege.
Although this gesture is meant to show solidarity with marginalized others, it can feel like labor for the black and brown people to give energy in the form of affirmation to white allies, especially when energy is already in short supply. For the purpose of survival, it is in the best interest of many racial minorities to keep white people comfortable, which means extending energy to support and validate white allies. Many people of color are also mindful of the tremendous need for white allies in order to create lasting systemic change, and many minorities will override their own feelings of exhaustion in order to be receptive to white allies.
Although I do not speak for all black and brown people, it has been my personal experience and the experience of many of my clients of color that we are already very tired and overwhelmed by everything that is going on, and we would benefit from keeping some energy for ourselves. During this time of growing social unrest, I advise giving space to the brown and black people in your life, and resist seeking approval, advice, or offering broad apologies and intangible support.
Exceptions can be made for close, personal, consenting relationships and interactions with paid POC professionals.
It is the nature of the work that you will make mistakes as an ally. Here are 10 actionable items you can engage in that will help black and brown communities while limiting risk:
1) Go to a protest
As a white person, you are less likely than a black or brown person to be targeted by police. Your presence and representation at a protest sends a strong message to the rest of the nation about our collective beliefs. As COVID-19 is still out there, make sure to wear your PPE!
2) Donate to bail relief for arrested protesters
If you are able to do so, contribute to local bail relief funds to help jailed protesters. Do your research and stay clear of fraudulent bail fundraising. You can also donate directly to your nearest #blacklivesmatter chapter.
3) Join/create process groups with other white allies
There are many existing white-led anti-racist organizations committed to helping other white people engage in the work. Here is a list of resources, including a list of white and POC anti-racist organizations, offered by CARW.
4) Educate yourself
Here is a shortlist of my personal favorite anti-racist readings:
Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment by Leticia Nieto
My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menaken
So, You Want to Talk About Race? By Ijeoma Oluo
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism By Robin DiAngelo
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome By Joy DeGruy
Many, many more excellent resources exist! You know how to Google!!
5) Seek out an anti-racist therapist
Many therapists specialize in anti-oppression and anti-racism work. When searching for therapists, inquire about their background in anti-racism and seek referrals.
6) Talk to your white friends and family
As a white person, you have a unique opportunity to engage in powerful conversations with your white friends and family, and help them understand why it’s essential for you to do this work. I am not promising it will be easy, but you have the potential to plant the seeds of change with those close to you.
7) Support black and brown businesses
Black and brown communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the COVID epidemic. Go here for a directory of black owned businesses and learn more about how you can support black owned businesses in your area.
8) Call your state representatives and demand accountability
Your voice is powerful. Go here to learn how to contact your state senators and representatives and make your demands for change and accountability.
9) Vote for candidates of color in local and national elections
Representation matters! If you are ready for systemic change, we need to change the face of politics by supporting the POC candidates whose platforms you believe in and promote them into positions of leadership.
10) Pace yourself
This work is hard and unrelenting. It is important to pace yourself, and allow yourself time to rest and recuperate. The work is never complete, so it is essential to be mindful of your mental, physical, and emotional limits.
I am accepting donations and will pay all donations forward to provide free counseling for clients of color.
Cash App: $RianRoberson