What’s Your Intention? Showing Up for Black Lives
As news about George Floyd’s death spread on Tuesday, May 26, it appeared to grip folks in the White community more than any other story—and there are too many—of its kind. There are so many who are waking up to a reality that has been known and felt by our Black brothers, sisters, and siblings for centuries. Systemic racism in the United States was planted firmly in the foundation as White supremacy before the country was even born. That’s more than 400 years of Black folks fighting for freedom and asking to be seen as valuable in a country that monetized, and continues to monetize, their bodies without any consideration for what it means to humanize them.
If this feels hard to read, we invite you to stay with us and lean in closer. Feel the discomfort. Engage with us on things to consider to take part in dismantling systems that uphold the White supremacy we benefit from. It is going to take your energy, your platforms, your money, and your time to affect change, but this work must be done.
As each of us has been on our journeys, questions that frequently emerge are:
What is the role of an ally? To what extent can I use my voice? And one of the biggest questions we hear time and time again: But, what if I make a mistake?
There are a lot of ideas on how to show up, what’s enough, and what’s needed. The truth is, as important as it is to get started, the work never stops. By taking some first steps you also must commit to continuing to listen, speak out, reflect on your own behaviors and attitudes and biases, and keep going.
This is not a trend or a phase we can just pick up when it is convenient for us or when it is popular. Doing this work requires taking steps to make changes that will cause disruption in our lives, our communities, and across the country. The only way to address the pervasiveness of racism is to recognize this fight has been and continues to be a marathon, which means the work lasts longer than a popular hashtag.
What follows is a comprehensive set of ideas, although it is not exhaustive. Lots of authors, educators, and individuals have already written resource guides, which we’ve provided links to at the end.
I. The Work Doesn’t Stop
II. You Will Make Mistakes
III. Listen and Learn
IV. Opting Out is a Privilege
V. Advance Your Conversations
VI. Reflection is Key
VIII. Reach Out & Connect
IX. Final Thoughts
X. Additional Resources and References
The Work Doesn’t Stop
This is more than one post, one hashtag, one march, or one conversation. This is all of those things and more. You cannot do one of these and sit back satisfied or tell your friends you “get it.”
We’ve said it and you’ve likely heard others say it: “Do the Work.” This is because what is being asked of you, of us, is to do actual work. It means learning, growing, sacrificing, donating (to organizations and individuals), leveraging your privilege, your voice, your networks, and so much more.
It is constant. It is necessary. It does not stop. We cannot stop. Do the work. Today, tomorrow, and every day after. And never expect anything because of it. Do it because we must. And then, keep doing it.
You Will Make Mistakes
No matter your intentions, you will mess up. You will say the wrong thing. You will speak up at the wrong time. You will minimize or dismiss a point due to misunderstanding or not comprehending the full picture. You will tune out because something strikes you way outside your comfort zone. Check back in and explore why you reacted or came to the conclusion that led to the mistake.
There are countless ways mistakes may happen. There is no way around them. You may be called out, called in, or challenged based on your mistakes. Never let this be an excuse to stop doing the work and always seek to understand how you may have perpetuated or caused harm. It is important for you to learn. Growth comes from feedback. We cannot give up when we mess up.
The movement toward racial justice cannot be done only if it feels emotionally safe for White people.
It is also true that not all people who identify as Black seek the same level or type of support, so adapting and broadening your understanding of what that looks like is crucial. We cannot expect Black individuals, folks who live each day facing oppression to also be expected to educate us. Do the research on your own. If someone calls you out, listen to what they say and learn more to understand how you can do better. Don’t get defensive. Don’t try to make excuses about your intention, when your impact misses the mark. If given the label of “ally,” you must not wear it as a badge to escape critique.
Listen and Learn
No matter how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. Invite all types of information in. Current events. Laws. Policies. Bills. Elections. Candidates. Organizations. Non-profits. No matter how much you consume, there will always be more information, more material, and more resources out there to take in about anti-racism, allyship, and about Black history that has been erased by modern education systems.
As you undertake this process, be active. Actively connect with Black individuals, creators, educators, authors, researchers, and artists. And continue to connect and engage with their work, not only around pain and trauma, but also centering Black joy and success. And when Black individuals have created something you consume, pay them, support them, amplify their work, honor them.
Bear witness to experiences different from your own. This means extending your humanness vulnerably to others and allowing them to do the same. It means sitting and being present while others share hard things and not looking away. It means digging in and holding space for their emotions. It means liberating ourselves from the ego part of us that wants to respond. The part of us that wants to justify our behaviors or say “but, that’s not me.” Or the ego part that wants praise for showing up. It means observing, engaging, and truly listening.
Opting Out is a Privilege
It is a privilege to be able to check out and turn away from oppression that doesn’t affect you.
It is frustrating to feel like you are talking to someone over and over again and no matter what you say, they just won’t listen. It hurts when you spend time crafting that perfect response to your family member only for them to respond callously, or double down on biased information. It is easy to unfriend the high school classmate making racist jokes. We have seen so many posts where White folks are inviting people, daring them even, to unfriend them if friends and followers don’t agree with their views. That’s not the right move, it’s the easy one. What does that do aside from telling people you’re unwilling to engage when it gets hard?
Understand that the act of checking out from these conversations is a privilege. Now more than ever, White people need to be having these conversations, no matter how taxed or emotional we feel.
Our Black peers don’t get to ignore these realities. There is no off button. There is no unfriending the White supremacy that built our country and permeates its systems today.
White people must become educated on how to have these conversations and share their voices. This means not dismissing ideas because they seem “radical” to us (yes, “Defund the Police” means exactly what it sounds like. If that makes you uncomfortable, explore why). This means intervening when we see peers weaponizing their Whiteness and using their privilege to harm others. This means being respectful when we show up in spaces such as marches or protests as guests.This means allowing ourselves to be frustrated. Our ability to label ideas as radical or offbeat, not acknowledge when others intentionally use their privilege, and to protest or exhibit frustration without worrying about our own safety is privilege in and of itself.
This should not merely be a social media campaign. Pick up the phone. Call a family member or friend. Send a text message. Ask people to talk. Address it in person, in the moment.
We cannot check out. Having the hard conversation once does not mean you are done. It is not a moment worthy of praise. It means you did the essential thing. Be prepared to have the conversation again and again and again. Be prepared for it to constantly evolve as topics shift.
Do not check out. We cannot remain silent.
Advance Your Conversations
Black Lives Matter. Period.
But, why does it feel so uncomfortable for many White people to say “Black Lives Matter”? It feels uncomfortable because we’ve never had to openly tell others to validate our White existence. Some of us have learned more in the last month about systemic racism and the implicit bias of our republic than in any time as an actual student in the education system. And as we continue to learn, we can do our best to lift up voices, to advocate for reform, to call out racism when we see it, to identify how we can be actively anti-racist.
We are able to have this conversation because our privilege protects us from the reality of the trauma experienced by others. Attacking others with differing viewpoints won’t get any of us anywhere, defensiveness creeps in and derails the conversation. It’s important to be able to recognize the reactions of others and inquire about why they think they are reacting that way. This helps to better understand where education is needed before dumping information on them that they will not hear.
As White people with power and privilege, our role is to advance the conversation. Our conversations need to include how we uphold White supremacy. What ways do we enable or empower systems of White supremacy? Why have we allowed it to grow? How can we work on dismantling these systems related to everything from housing to law enforcement to education to health services to employment practices and beyond?
Answering these questions is not enough. We must take action.
Saying you support Black lives is not the end, it’s barely the beginning. Our role must be tearing down the systems that actively fly in the face of this. Our role is to acknowledge our privilege, recognize it is rooted in systems of White supremacy, and to figure out how we can participate in dismantling it.
This can be voting. It can be the organizations we donate to. It can be the organizations we stop patronizing (like Starbucks or other businesses who benefit from prison labor – and if you weren’t aware of that, do some research). It can be holding our institutions accountable. There are a lot of things. But we cannot make a statement and stop.
As a dear friend pointed out, Whiteness has the ability to protect Black folks, but doing that is not cause for self-righteous celebration. It is actually the epitome of why folks are in the streets marching. White people need to stop standing in front of the Black community in an attempt to protect because it only serves as a reminder that our society exists within systems that value us more. Instead, we need to be accomplices holding the line together. We need to be willing to risk our own safety in a very real way and not just a superficial or performative way in order to make a change.
If Black Lives Matter to us, then we must work toward creating a world that accepts this in its entirety. Entirety means every Black life. Black transgender folks, Black women, individuals who are Black and gay, Black and queer. The outrage for the loss of Black life at the hands of police brutality or over racism in its daily occurrences cannot prioritize cisgender men over everyone else. And we cannot let our activism only flare up in the case of a horrific video. We need to care not just because another individual is murdered, but because Black lives are deserving of the dignity, rights, respect, and treatment afforded to their White counterparts.
We must do the work of tearing down systems of White supremacy even when it is not the topic of the day. Advancing and elevating the conversation means standing up against all anti-Blackness all the time.
Reflection is Key
Sitting in the discomfort of realizing your life and body is valued more than someone else’s because of your skin color only scratches the surface. Listening and holding space for the pain of others and reflecting on why you have never, and will never know that particular pain, is important. That’s the real work and it’s necessary.
One thing we considered when writing this was whether or not we should put our names on it.
A speakerless blog. That was the idea. We thought that it demonstrated solidarity, representative of the inequality and silence our Black brothers and sisters and siblings experience. Let’s be anonymous, so we don’t center ourselves or take up too much space. That was the intention. And even with years of “doing this work” among us, we misstepped. That’s how power and privilege and living in a White body in an anti-Black society work—the option to remain hidden when so many are asking us to show support out loud. Well-intentioned is not enough.
We decided to share this with our names because it is about us. A large part of existing as White people means we have a power and privilege not afforded to so many and we must use that privilege with compassionate boldness. We must claim this conversation and these words.
White people created these unjust systems and we need to be a part of dismantling them. We must discuss this and stand by our words because so many people are unable to disassociate their identities from how they show up in their daily lives. As put by our peer Sara Lowery, being an ally means we must take a stand.
Take some time, maybe once a day, maybe once a week, and do some discernment. Think about how society has set you up for success. Think about the barriers some face that you don’t. Think about how you feel when you go for a jog or to the grocery store. Think about if you’ve always been able to buy products or see actors whose skin color represents yours. Think about the organizations you are a part of or the jobs you work. What do your leadership teams look like?
When you find incidences of the perpetration of White supremacy, you must be able to work to change them. And don’t opt for the easy conversation. Think and act critically on what systems are benefiting you and those around you. Figure out, then act, on how you can change them.
We cannot claim to wear a badge of allyship. In fact, there is no such thing. And if there was, simply by stating you’re an ally means you really don’t get it. This is more than a like, share, or hashtag. This is about validating and speaking against the systems that benefit us while harming others. Understanding why Black Lives Matter is the tip of the iceberg. The very start. You can be in community with others and get curious about what you can do in your sphere of influence. Authentically and genuinely showing up, speaking up when necessary, and shutting up to listen more often than not.
This includes us. Our actions define who we are. We’ve not been perfect. We’ve been astutely aware of our privilege and haven’t always done enough. But we’re committed to doing the work consistently and continuing to use our voice toward racial justice.
We urge you to consider where you can start in showing up for Black lives and holding yourself and others accountable in those areas. There can be a lot of ways to accomplish this. But it cannot be inaction. The linked article includes some great immediate steps to take that help support this. Do not stop here, though.
Reach Out & Connect
In the current national and global dialogues, especially with the fast pace of social media, there is a lot of noise about what to do and what not to do. We’re still on our own journeys, but would love to dialogue with anyone looking to get started. We have included our email addresses for any questions you or others might have. We’re happy to talk.
And now that so many are waking up to the injustices consistently endured by Black individuals, we need to stop sharing our White tears and stand by. Instead we must fan the flames of the torchbearers who have been calling this out for decades because so many have shared that they’re tired. It’s not our job to take the torch and demand change. It is our role to show up and bear witness to the anger and frustration and sadness and exhaustion so many are feeling. The daily trauma and retraumatizing situations endured by Black people in the United States is not something the three of us will ever experience or understand, but we owe it to them to believe, hear, and see their pain. Black humanity, Black love, Black art, Black voices, and Black lives matter to us and we shouldn’t have to plead with you for you to understand why they should matter to you, too.
And because they matter, we must act.
- Code Switch
- Waiting on Reparations
- TedRadio Hour: Ingrained Justice
- Scene on Radio
- Side Effects of White Women Podcast Episode with Amanda Seales
- 1619 from the New York Times
- White Awake by Daniel Hill
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria (Beverly Tatum)
- I’m Still Here (Austin Channing Brown)
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi
- Instagram Accounts to Follow
- TalkSpace (mental health)
- Trillornottrill (cultural education)
- Shityoushouldcareabout (social justice)
- Blklivesmatter (social justice)
- Jenfrytalks (race)
- Drvictoriafarris (race)
- wearyourvoice (LGBTQ)
- alokvmenon (LGBTQ)
- Blcksmth (social justice/vulnerability/humor)
- Bold_xchange (black owned business)
- Decolonizingtherapy (social justice/race)
- Untilfreedom (social justice)
- Thegreatunlearn (cultural education/social justice)
- Wokebrownfem (cultural education/social justice)
- nowhitesaviours (social justice)
- theimtiredproject (social justice)
- rachel.cargle (education)
- taranajaneen (education/sexual violence)
- Advancementproject (non-profit/social justice)
- britthawthorne (allyship)
- indyamoore (LGBTQ)
- theunapologeticallybrownseries (LGBTQ)
- austinchanning (education/social justice)
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (Peggy McIntonsh)
- When Black people are in pain, White people just join book clubs (Tre Johnson)
- Audre Lorde’s The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism
- Rachel Elizabeth Cargle’s When Feminism is White Supremacy in Heels
- Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Case for Reparations
- Why Seeing Yourself Represented on Screen Is So Important (Kimberley Lawson)
- 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
- Resources for White People to Learn and Talk About Race and Racism
- Racial Equity Tool
- Scaffoled Anti-Racist Resources
- Netflix currently has a Black Lives Matter Collection incorporating many shows/movies
- 13th (documentary/prison reform)
- When They See Us (show/prison reform)