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Nailah-Benā Chambers stands in front a brick wall and offers words of wisdom. Photo courtesy of Nailah-Benā Chambers.

How to be a better ally

The aftermath of George Floyd’s murder has left many of us feeling shocked and angry at the officers and the racist system as a whole. For many of you, utilizing the Black Lives Matter hashtag on Instagram and Twitter is a proclamation of your outrage at the injustices that continue to affect the Black community. But simply posting a photo of multicolored fists in the air with the hashtag isn’t enough, and here’s why.

Misconceptions surrounding allyship can make well-intentioned people feel that posting a photo with a dignified caption is sufficient. But an Instagram post or a tweet isn’t actually benefiting anyone. It’s a performative act that floods timelines with useless information and blocks access to resources that could otherwise advance the movement. 

It can be difficult to understand what to say or how to help when you don’t know where to start, and that’s okay. The most important thing is that you sincerely want to help. 

You don’t have to get sprayed by tear gas or lead a protest to be an ally, nor do you need to throw yourself into dangerous situations to prove your support for the Black community. But being an ally does mean that you are informed, supportive and are willing to educate those around you. 

Being an ally is not only understanding the space you are occupying, and the privilege that accompanies it, but also using your privilege to speak for others. Being an ally is listening first and speaking second. It’s allowing yourself to be corrected, realizing you don’t know everything and being ready to learn. 

Allyship starts with acceptance. It’s about accepting that you need to step back and evaluate your preconceived notions about activism and accepting that you have to put in more effort to be effective and informative. 

Acceptance is followed by listening. It means taking a break from the hashtags and Twitter activism threads to conduct some research on your own. Start by reading Black authors to learn more about white privilege, racism and discrimination. Some helpful texts include 8 Books on Race and Privilege to Learn How to be a Better AllyJames Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” Danez Smith’s “dear white america” and spoken words such as “Letter to Your Flag.”

You don’t need to become an expert in racism or systematic oppression. You do, however, need to educate yourself by listening to Black voices and their stories to help you better understand issues faced by the Black community. 

Understand that educating yourself isn’t a one-time action, but an ongoing process. 

Instead of posting hashtags, it’s about taking your activism further by providing resources and other forms of information for your followers. It’s about informing others by using your platform and privilege to promote information and Black voices, rather than speaking for them.

Beyond social media, it’s necessary to include activism in your daily life. This is the part of allyship that is looked over and feared the most. It can be scary to do, and not everyone is secure in calling out those around them or holding others accountable for their words and actions. However, it’s also the most important part. 

Examine who you follow and who you surround yourself with. Are they allies as well? Is their speech harmful? Could you inform or correct them? It’s difficult to call out your peers and family on topics like this, but it’s a tough conversation that must be had, again and again. 

When you share your knowledge and assist others, you are fulfilling what it means to be supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. It isn’t always about being on the front lines or being the loudest in the room. It’s about your sincerity and willingness to inform yourself and to take action where and how you can.

Written by Nailah-Benā Chambers, Global Studies major and Chinese minor, Class of 2022