How To Be An Ally To The Black Community

How To Be An Ally To The Black Community

Thanks to decades of work by Black activists and leaders, the #BlackLivesMatter revolution and fight for Black liberation has finally reached the tipping point. Whereas before, we were conditioned by White society not to talk about race or racism, today we have no option but to engage (hopefully in meaningful ways).

As Angela Davis, the political activist, author, and educator once said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

Part of being anti-racist means showing up as an ally, a journey in itself that’s lifelong and involves constant learning and unlearning.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my own (un)learning journey began in 2015, the  year we founded Cambio & Co. The more I began to dive into Filipino history in Canada, the USA, and the Philippines, the more I learned how deeply rooted White supremacy and anti-Blackness was in our community and in my own mind.

Along the way, I’ve been able to learn a lot about allyship and solidarity (many of those lessons delivered through awful missteps and painful, but deserved, call outs). And so I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned with you, particularly my Filipinx fam.

I’ll say it now though: the lessons I’m about to share are by no means exhaustive. They're not things I do perfectly, but things I strive to do and ways I strive to be. I hope you find them helpful in your own anti-racism journey.

Here’s a starting point in how to be an ally to the Black community.

1. Engage *Especially* When It’s Hard.

Engage *Especially* When It’s Hard. // Acknowledge that as non-Black folks, we have the privilege to jump in and out of conversations but Black people don't. For the Black community, this is life or death. This is oppression all the damn time. So don't just jump in when it's easy. Being an ally means showing up consistently to be there for our Black friends.

Acknowledge that as non-Black folks, we have the privilege to jump in and out of conversations about racism, police brutality, and anti-Blackness, but Black people don’t. For the Black community, this is a lived reality and a danger they face every single day. 

Yes, we non-Black folks may be tired and busy and overwhelmed because we’ve got a lot going on. Yes, we may be called out as a nuisance or a troublemaker. Yes, speaking up may be uncomfortable and scary. 

But being an ally means showing up consistently and being there *especially* when it’s difficult; not just when it’s easy, convenient, or trendy.

2. Listen To Black Folks When They Share Their Experiences.

Listen To Black Folks When They Share Their Experiences. None of us can truly know what it's like to live in a different colour skin, so trust Black voices, especially when they've been sayign the same thing for decades.

Just because you haven’t personally experienced something doesn’t mean it’s not real. 

It’s human nature to think the world revolves around us, but it doesn’t. Part of being an ally means believing the experiences and voices of Black folks, particularly when those voices have been saying the same thing for YEARS.

If a Black, Indigenous, or person of colour calls you out for something, then please take the time to listen and fight the instinct to dismiss them. For Black folks, their lived experience makes them an expert, so listen to them.

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racial gaslighting 101 〰️ Gaslighting is when someone manipulates information to make a victim question their own experience, memory or reality. Folks who gaslight often do this to avoid having to take accountability or avoid having to feel guilty for the fact that they benefit from something that harms you. When it comes to understanding, navigating and surviving racism, we’ve had to deal with this our entire lives. We know it when we see it. Folks who have never experienced racism and do not care to unlearn their toxic conditioning will attempt to exhaust you. Exhaust you so you silence yourself. Exhaust you so you doubt yourself. Exhaust you so you normalize the treatment. Stay the course. Trust yourself. People don’t get to try to make rebuttals to your lived experience with abuse. This ain’t debate club. #racialgaslighting

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3. But Don’t Rely On Black Folks To Explain Things To You. 

But Don’t Rely On Black Folks To Explain Things To You. It's not their job to do the mental and emotional labour to teach you. It's your responsibility to learn. There's already a wealth of information out there, much of it written by Black folks about the Black experience. Put in the work. Learn. Grow. And don't just value the opinions of people who look like you.

If a Black person chooses to educate you, then please sit down and listen. Otherwise, do NOT expect them to do the work for you.

Don’t ask them to send you links to articles. Don’t ask them about their own experiences with the police. Don’t ask them to get on a call to explain things further or to clear up any ‘misunderstandings.’

Most of the time, these misunderstandings are often the result of us, non-Black folk, not putting in the work, time, or energy to learn what we need to learn.

There’s already a wealth of information out there, the majority of it by Black activists, creators, and educators. They’ve taken on the mental and emotional labour to educate us about the Black experience and Google is free.

If you’re struggling with where to begin, check out this guide called Filipinx For #BlackLivesMatter with resources specifically for the Filipinx community. You should also head to Rachel Cargle and Austin Channing Brown, two Black women and anti-Black racism educators. 

4. Speak Up & Educate, So Our Black Friends Don’t Need To.

Speak Up & Educate, So Our Black Friends Don’t Need To. Can you imagine undergoing trauma, violence, and oppression while also having to teach, respond to trolls, and convince people of your humanity?? Black activists & advocates have to do this constantly. Let's use our privilege as non-Black folks to ease the burden as much as possible.

Let’s use our privilege as non-Black folks to ease the burden as much as possible. The more non-Black people speak up against anti-Blackness, the less time, labour and energy Black people need to spend advocating for themselves. 

This is particularly true if you’re a White person, as anti-Black racism still impacts communities of colour, though of course to a lesser degree than Black folks. 

If you’re concerned about taking up space by speaking out, ask yourself, “Does my speaking out benefit the Black community? Or does it benefit me?” It’s only taking up space if you’re pushing your own agenda; not if you’re amplifying messages that the Black community is asking us to share.

When we stay silent, we are part of the problem. When we witness injustice and choose to speak up, we become part of the solution (credit Dave Chappelle).

5.  Do Not Say “Not All White People” + Insert Personal Hardship Here.

Do Not Say “Not All White People” + Insert Personal Hardship Here. Please don't do this. This is not about you. This is not about individual White people or just "a few bad cops." Racism is about power + privilege + systems. By saying this, you are making a Black person who is trying to protect themselves and their loved ones now have to protect your feelings, too.

Actually, it’s best to never say anything like this, ever. 

A key step to allyship is acknowledging that none of this is about you, your friends, or your family members. 

Racism is about power + privilege + SYSTEMS. This isn’t about you as an individual or about a few “bad cops.”  Racism is about systems, structures, and power dynamics which have the effect of actively oppressing a group of people. 

By saying this, you’re making a Black person who is trying to protect themselves and their loved ones now have to protect your feelings, too.

6. You Can Be The Target Of Racism & Still Contribute To And Benefit From Racism.

You Can Be The Target Of Racism & Still Contribute To And Benefit From Racism. This is a note to my Asian fam. As Sari Sari Studio said, 'we exist within a proximity to Whiteness that allows us to move through the world more easily than Black folx.' Think long and hard about what this means.

This is a note to the Filipino community and my fellow Asians. 

Yes, anti-Asian racism is real, alive, and well. However, we must acknowledge that the racism we’ve experienced is nowhere near the level of brutality and violence that have been inflicted upon our Black siblings.

As Asians, we benefit from the model minority myth. White supremacy has classified certain groups (Asians) as “the good ones” who are hard working and submissive and desirable. We then try to live up to that myth because it brings us closer to the good opinions of those in power (White folk).

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I’m excited to share this guide with all of you ✨ In wake of the current public health crisis, it’s more important than ever to rally support for our AAPI communities and not fall into dangerous, racist rhetoric (“Chinese virus” 🙄)that isolates and dehumanizes us. As a Korean American, I can speak volumes to the type of racist microagressions I've dealt with my whole life, the long enduring history of oppression AAPI communities have faced, and the systemic hardships and experiences that result from this, but I can't emphasize enough the enormous impact the model minority myth not only has on AAPI, but the devastating effects it has had on the oppression of our fellow minorities. The perceived success of our communities is still actively being used as a scapegoat to discredit the systemic oppression of BIPOC! Oppression is nuanced and unique to every minority group, and we have to shift that blame from each other rightfully back to the oppressors because we are all in this together and we have an obligation to fight with and stand as allies for ALL minority communities 👊🏽👊🏿👊👊🏼 〰️ #modelminority #modelminoritymyth #notyourmodelminority #aapi #asianamerican #systemicracism #whiteprivilege #checkyourprivilege #racialequality #illo #illustration #digitalillustration #procreate #illustrator #illustratorsoninstagram #ladieswhodraw #womenwhodraw #pdxillustrators #illustratorsoninstagram #womensupportingwomen #feminist #designer #womanownedbusiness #portlandartist #womenofillustration #femaleillustrator #femaleartist #womanartist #femaleartists #womenartists

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Asians live in a proximity to Whiteness that has made it easier for us to be accepted. Again, there’s no denying that we’ve faced racism and discrimination as a group, but we’ve never been classified as dangerous or threatening to the point that we fear for our lives while jogging in the middle of the day.

Our fates are intertwined. None of us are free until all of us are free.

7. Don’t Expect Gratitude.

Don’t Expect Gratitude. Don't expect a pat on the back for speaking up and being a decent human being. This is not about you.

True allyship is about centering the voices and stories of the community you’re aiming to uplift. It should never be about you. 

If you’re attending a protest in support of Black Lives Matter, allow the Black folks to lead the conversation, the cheers, and the motions. You should not be the loudest one in the room. 

‘Ally’ isn’t a title you can give yourself. Instead, it’s up to the community you’re supporting to decide whether your actions have lived up to their definitions. Are you backing your words by action? Are you doing what the community has asked you to do, and supporting them in the ways they’ve asked to be supported?

As Robin Deangelo, the author of White Fragility and a White person said in an interview, “I don’t call myself a white ally… And that’s because that is for people of color to decide, whether in any given moment I’m behaving in anti-racist ways. And notice that that keeps me accountable. It’s for them to determine if in any given moment—it’s not a fixed location—I haven’t made it or arrived. …”

8. Listen To Feedback When You Mess Up (And You *Will* Mess Up) 

Listen To Feedback When You Mess Up (And You *Will* Mess Up). Dismantling White supremacy and (un)learning racism is a lifelong journey. You will say & do the wrong thing more than once, but this is part of the process. Accept this will happen, but that you will learn from it and the world will not end.

Allyship is a lifelong practice. It’s a learning journey; one that’s bound to be messy and painful (because we will all mess up at some point, multiple times). 

But it’s also a journey that’s critical, not for our own growth, but to build the kind of world that we, as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour - all of us - deserve. 

What have you learned about allyship and solidarity? Share your lessons below.


Gelaine Santiago

Gelaine Santiago

Gelaine is a social entrepreneur, an online storyteller, and a passionate advocate for diversity and ethics in business. She’s the co-founder of Cambio & Co., an e-commerce fashion company working with Filipino artisans to celebrate Filipino craftsmanship, culture, and heritage. Gelaine is also one of the founders of Sinta & Co., the world’s first conscious Filipino wedding boutique. She was named one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2019. Find her on Instagram @gelainesantiago and www.gelainesantiago.com