Racial tension, civil unrest, and systemic injustice impact us in different ways. For some people, the highlighted inequities give further proof to their lived experiences, and move them to speak out and take action for justice. For others, it opens their eyes to now see the racial injustices that their privilege once allowed them to ignore. If you’re in the latter group, you may be looking for ways to stand in solidarity with communities of color. While this process is a lifelong journey, and there are many ways to continuously learn, grow, and hold yourself accountable, here are four tangible ways that you can practice allyship:
- Educate Yourself
In order to practice allyship, you must educate yourself on the issues. Don't expect people of color to educate you, even if they’re your friends. It's a good idea to read literature on systemic racism written by people of color. Not only does this support these authors, but it also helps you learn about racism beyond the surface and on a systemic level. But let us prepare you: you will likely realize that you have done or said or believed things that contribute to the problem, even if you did so unintentionally or subconsciously. In those moments, don’t fall into guilt or respond in defense. Be humble and realize that you're not being attacked. You're unlearning problematic behavior.
- Listen Before Speaking
Part of allyship is listening to the people who are most affected by systemic oppression. It's tempting to want to shout your own opinions, but make sure you're not speaking over people of color when you do so. Listen to hear what the problems are from the impacted community’s perspective, and listen to the proposed solutions from these communities. After all, their lived experiences give them a level of knowledge and expertise that people outside of the community can never have. Speaking without listening puts your voice above the voices of people of color, and your voice will seem louder because of your privilege. Use your privilege (more on that later), but not at the expense of silencing or overpowering voices that need to be at the forefront of the movement.
Additionally, if you find yourself tempted to speak in defense of yourself or your privileged identity, take a step back to self-reflect. Remember that the experiences, needs, and demands of people of color are what should be centered and focused on. If your response brings you or any privileged community to the center or focus, this is actually the opposite of allyship, and it is counter to social change.
- Support POC-Owned Businesses
A very impactful way that you can uplift people of color is by supporting their businesses. The racial wealth gap is real, and while it won’t change overnight, you can start working to change it with your wallet. Many minority owned businesses are small businesses so if you start shopping at local POC (people of color)-owned businesses, you will also strengthen your local economy. Systemic racism and oppression make it harder for minority owned businesses to maintain, survive, and thrive, but everytime one does, it opens the door a bit more for other minority owned businesses to arise. So when you shop, consider where you spend.
- Use Your Privilege
Many people feel attacked when issues of privilege are discussed, but acknowledging privilege is not an attack; it’s an opportunity to elevate others. We mentioned how you shouldn't speak over the voices of people of color. However, you can use your privilege to make their voices louder. Share and repost the work of and organizing led by people of color. Donate to or volunteer for POC organizations. Partner with them by giving access to resources that you have and they don’t. And on a in-group level, have conversations about racial justice within your own (privileged identity) communities. To be honest, white people may not listen to or feel comfortable talking about race with people of color, but they will likely have those conversations with you. As you grow in your knowledge and cultural competence, don’t keep it to yourself. Help others understand privilege, oppression, and racial injustice, so they can begin to practice allyship for themselves.
Commit to Allyship
Allyship is a journey; it’s a lifelong commitment to learning, growing, and holding yourself accountable. Don’t let your commitment end when protest coverage stops. Challenge yourself to move from ‘not racist’ to being anti-racist, and remember that mistakes will be made. In those moments, listen, apologize, and learn how to do better moving forward. In difficult times, keep the purpose and in goal in mind: justice.
Are you committed to allyship?
At PIE, we're committed to diversity education, as well as ethical production of goods. As a black woman-owned business, we're dedicated to seeking justice for all marginalized communities. Wear our allyship apparel with pride and come see what we have to offer.