This is a guest post written by one of my great friends and colleagues, Greg Miller. Interested in writing for my blog? Contact me!
As one of Danielle’s colleagues, I’ve had the benefit of learning a great deal from her about advising at VCU. From understanding nuances of some of the more difficult curricula offered by the institution, to tips and tricks for the software we use on a daily basis. As one of Danielle’s friends, I’ve had the pleasure of making obscure references to The Office with a fellow fan as well as getting to understand her observations on life and current events. I was even fortunate enough to join Danielle’s anti-racism book club during its early stages, thus affording me the opportunity to gain more of her insights. Needless to say when Danielle asked me to share my insights on current events as a guest writer on her blog, I was honored; not only because someone outside my immediate family complimented my writing ability, but also felt that I could be of use to the anti-racist cause. With that in mind, let’s get to it!
To add some context for this piece, my name is Greg. I’m a white, heterosexual male. Essentially, I look like I should be named Greg. If you were to conjure an image in your mind about what a ‘Greg’ would look like, you probably wouldn’t be too far off. As someone who can easily be mistaken for a bank teller, or a gym manager, or a travel blogger, I joke that presenting as a white cisgendered male essentially makes me “the enemy” of contemporary society. It is heavily, although not entirely, because of this fact that Danielle wanted me to do this guest spot on her blog. She asked me to come up with a list of things individuals of a similar Caucasian persuasion could do to support the Black Lives Matter movement, or be an ally to the BIPOC community. I’m not, nor would I consider myself, an expert in this subject as I’m continuously learning how to become a better ally. However, I can offer a couple tips and perspectives on the matter to you, the white cisgendered individual seeking to be supportive.
The first tip I have to offer, and I cannot stress this enough, is for you, the aspiring ally, to shut the fuck up. Read it again if you need to; really make sure it’s burned into your conscious mind. If you need me to, I’ll repeat it: shut the fuck up. This movement is not about you, not even a little. If you think it might be, remember, you should be shutting the fuck up. I promise you, no one cares how many BIPOC friends you have. I’d argue that they wouldn’t approve of you using them as a way to inject yourself in the conversation, but we’ll get back to that. No one cares that you watched “The Help” and “Hidden Figures” and “Roots” all in the same weekend in the not too distant past. No one cares how many times you retweeted the hashtags “saytheirnames” or “nojusticenopeace.” You want to become an ally? Then shut the fuck up and listen for a change. Listen to understand, not to respond. Listen to stories; from authors, from researchers, and most importantly, from regular, everyday members of the BIPOC community. They are the ones who have been, and still are experiencing the treatment that’s led to this very movement, this very moment in history.
Now, let’s get back to those BIPOC friends of yours. They’re your friends, surely they would understand you invoking their existence to justify not being perceived as an ignorant sack of shit, right? Maybe, they’re your friends after all, you know them and they know you. However, I’m willing to bet they’d feel somewhat offended being used as your “get out of white people trouble” card. I’m even willing to double down and bet that it wouldn’t be the first time you offended them. Granted you probably didn’t mean to, but intent matters very little in this case. Which brings me to my next tip to being an ally; don’t be afraid to be called out, especially by your friends. You may even want to enlist their help in this situation. Luckily, your friends will probably know a tactful way to call you out on your misconduct. It should be noted that their part in this equation is not to be your teacher. Instead, it’s to bring to your attention when you say or do something ignorant. It’s up to you to teach yourself new behaviors, or to unlearn old ones.
As I stated earlier, I’m not an expert in this matter. Up to this point, I’ve just offered a couple of suggestions for what I believe other white people can do to be a better ally. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is get outside your comfort zone, and get involved. No, I’m not talking about Facebook/Twitter slacktivism (see: hashtags mentioned earlier in this post), I’m talking about getting out there and actively participating in marches. In demonstrations. In protests. If you have social anxiety or aren’t a big crowds type of person, there are smaller scale ways to get involved, like in book clubs. In discussion groups. In speaker series. Don’t get out there just to be performative, because people, especially your BIPOC friends will know the difference. Don’t go out there just to get a photo op of you raising your right fist with protestors in the background. If you want to document the occasion, take photos of what you see around you; the coming together of individuals from all communities in support of a crucial, historical movement. Getting involved is paramount; it’s the best way to learn and support at the same time. While you’re participating, talk to people, and when you do talk to fellow attendees, remember my first tip.
This concludes my tutorial on how to be supportive of your BIPOC community, and BLM movement. This is not an all-encompassing lesson, but merely a good base to operate from. As I said earlier, it’s up to you to keep learning. To keep engaging. It’s what I know I have to do; I know I can’t be satisfied with my knowledge of current issues. Why? Because current issues have historical connections to other issues. It’s up to me to learn about those too. How? By shutting the fuck up and listening. By having people bring to my attention things that are perceived as ignorant. By actively engaging in the movement itself. Once you start learning about the historical connections and the systemic hurdles that have been implemented for the sole purpose of preventing an entire section of our nation’s population from making even a modicum of progress with respect to basic rights, you will feel what the BLM movement is about. You will understand what your support means. You will know that you can use your privileged status in society to amplify voices of the ignored and unheard. Then, and only then, will you be viewed as a true ally.