The murder of George Floyd sparked something across the world. It forced us all to face the realities of racism for African Americans in particular, but people of colour all over the world facing discrimination and systemic racism.
While racism has always existed and we have always been aware of it, the civil unrest that broke out in the United States and around the world has been able to draw the public’s attention to the impact of systemic racism across all aspects of society.
For too long, white majority populations have allowed this racism – whether through directly contributing to these injustices or acting passively when given an opportunity to challenge them.
With the rise of Donald Trump and white supremacist views in the United States and far-right politicians in Europe, it’s incredibly important that white people act as allies to people of colour. White communities need to face their white privilege and make themselves familiar with the struggles of black people in their town, workplace, school and country.
We need to stop ignoring racism and challenge it whenever we are faced with it, witness it or suspect it. We need to be solid and consistent allies to black communities. It’s only when we all stand together against systematic discrimination that it can be rooted out. Anti-racism, rather than passive dismissiveness, is the only way to create real change and a fairer, more representative society.
To help create sustained change for generations, educational reform is necessary. Our national curriculum excludes our role as colonisers across the world when the British Empire is referred to, it is in nostalgic and glorifying terms.
Textbooks talk of the powerful British territory and our powerful navy but do their best to neglect the enslavement of entire communities and mass rape of indigenous women. Modern governments and populations of former colonial powers must recognise this part of their national identity and past. Whether we like it or not, our nationhood is informed by these actions.
Part of coming to terms with our horrific past is taking down statues, renaming clubs and reclaiming these spaces that have been occupied by former slave owners and colonisers and replacing them with figures who embolden the modern identity of a state. The statue of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peters Square in Manchester provides a more recent example of a positive statue that inspires future generations and represents a history that empowers us.
Being an ally should be at the front of everyone’s minds right now. We should all be doing our best to stand side-by-side with people of colour to fight for equality. We must take responsibility in educating ourselves about the realities of racism – both past and present. This also means accepting that only people of colour understand what it’s like to face this type of systematic oppression.
We can never understand but we can fight with them. Being an ally is about taking the anger felt by black communities as if it’s our own. Let’s face it, white people should be as enraged by racism as much as black people and until everyone feels as equally disgusted by it, nothing will change. White people need to be willing to let this rage empower them and carry this through in their everyday lives. This is what being an ally is.
Allies are necessary because people of colour can’t take down an oppressive system they didn’t create or uphold. Systemic racism is a burden for white people to deal with. Although modern populations are not responsible for the slave trade, unless we take action to tear down racist systems and barriers, we are passive to racism and that is not good enough.
Allyship may not be easy. It might involve confronting your friends, your family. It might cost you friends. But those who hold such beliefs don’t deserve a place in your life unless they’re willing to learn and change. If we allow people to carry these beliefs with them, they could become teachers, lawyers, politicians, police officers and apply these beliefs to their work. This is not something that anyone should stand for.
It’s important to recognise that once you commit to being an ally, this doesn’t mean that black communities owe you anything. It’s your responsibility to educate yourself and find ways to amplify black voices. This doesn’t mean speaking over people or speaking for them, but giving them a platform to speak for themselves and supporting them in doing this.
Black communities need allies. What they don’t need is performative activism. Allyship is not posting a black square on Instagram or tweeting #blacklivesmatter once. This is easy and means nothing.
If you can post one black square and feel satisfied, then you’re part of the problem. Performative activism is counter-productive and worsens the problem as it allows people to sit back and accept racism and the impact it has on communities of colour.
It’s the solid actions outside of online activism that matters. Raising awareness of racism on social media is important, but that alone is not enough. You must be willing to do something about injustice and push for change.
We can end racism but we need to do it together. It starts with everyone taking on racism and taking this anger as their own. With everyone refusing to tolerate racism and doing this no matter the consequences to relationships or job offers, we can make it impossible for people to propose racist agendas or ideas without severe consequences.
Until Black Lives Matter protests can take place peacefully, without All Lives Matter counter-protesting and until there’s no longer a need for Black Lives Matter protests to take place – because society recognises that every single life matters – everyone must step up and take action.