Since writing my last article for cupcakes and cashmere in July, life has looked oddly the same, but also different—we will soon have a new president and are that much closer to entering a (hopefully) better year (wear your masks!) with vaccine and treatment options... but we are still living through the worst pandemic in recent history.
Unfortunately, another part of life looks largely the same since the summer, too: the injustice that Black people continue to face. Just over a month ago in my home city of Philadelphia, police killed Walter Wallace, a Black man who struggled with his mental health, sparking protests and outcry throughout the city. While the protests in Philly were powerful, the public support was not the same as what we saw in the summer.
The Pew Research Center recently published reports that show support of the Black Lives Matter movement has decreased among non-Black adults since the summer. And on social media and in day-to-day conversations, there's a new silence by many of the brands and people who feverishly posted Black Lives Matter (BLM) content and black squares back in June.
As a Black woman, it hurts to see support waning as people either get sick of hearing about injustice or don’t know what to do next. And while I didn’t expect things to change overnight, I did hope this summer’s strong support would continue as people learned about our struggles.
It’s not easy to know what to do in times of injustice or how to make society fairer. I mean, we are going up against generations and generations of inequality, racism and bias, but there are absolutely things that can be done to support the Black community in the coming days, months, and years—and just like we did in the summer—the Black community needs help from non-Black allies to help institute any sort of meaningful change. Here are some ways to support the Black community during a time when support is, decidedly, dwindling:
Seeing community support as a Black person means a lot because the reality is we are not welcome in every community. So, while it may seem like a passive and easy thing to do, visually showing your dedication to the Black Lives Matter movement is important. Meaning, keep your BLM signs out in your yard or your windows (or put out new ones!).
And for a real-world example of the impact of this type of support: My now-husband, Brandon, and I went to Burlington, Vermont (highly, highly recommend—such a great city) and felt supported after seeing BLM signs at nearly every business and in front of most homes in the city, a largely white city at that. Brandon and I audibly pointed out particularly moving BLM signs, including one that listed the names of innocent Black people murdered by police and domestic terrorists in the past few years.
Many large companies have some sort of diversity and inclusion group or initiative, and while it may not feel totally applicable, it’s actually particularly important for non-people of color (non-POC) to join diversity and inclusion groups to see directly what their organization is (or isn’t) doing to become anti-racist. Additionally, by joining these types of groups, non-POC can help with important programs and hear firsthand some of the struggles that Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) at the company are facing.
If your job doesn’t have this type of program, why not work with BIPOC at your company to start one? The onus should not fall on BIPOC people alone to start diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Beyond the workplace, there are other career-related ways to support the Black community. You can reach out to Black professional organizations, which exist in a number of industries, and become a supporter by sharing job postings, networking opportunities, or simply sitting back and learning about the struggles that BIPOC face in your industry—and working to alleviate some of those challenges.
There are tons of Black professional organizations, but some examples are the National Association of Black Journalists, the Association of Black Psychologists, Blacks in Technology, the National Black Nurses Association and the National Society of Black Engineers.
During the holiday shopping season, it’s important to continue to support Black-owned businesses, whether by ordering online, popping by a physical store, or ordering from a Black-owned restaurant. And if you need even more of a reason to support Black businesses, several companies have fallen victim to racist emails and hateful reviews. Meaning, Black-owned businesses need support.
As far as my favorite Black-owned businesses and brands, I shop often at Marsh and Mane, Grace Eleyae, Harriett’s Bookshop, and KNC Beauty. The Strategist also has a great list to reference as you plan out your last-minute holiday shopping.
I’ve had to do some hard unfollows of influencers who posted lots of performative allyship content in the summer but have been silent on the issue since. Some even posted tearful stories about how hard the subject is to post about so they have to stop. Um, okay.
I won’t name names here, but those people do not deserve attention from anyone who is trying to support the Black community. Platforms should be used for good and, unfortunately, many continue to use their influential platforms in the same way they did before learning about the injustice that the Black community faces. I am not saying that I expect non-activists to post anti-racism resources on a daily basis, but I do expect an ongoing commitment to the promotion of Black leaders and Black-owned brands, not just a one-time post.
I, personally, don’t care about Molly’s (fake name!) latest shopping haul if she has no interest in helping lift the Black community.
Instead of performative allies, I support Black leaders like Morgan Harper Nichols, Candace Read, Elaine Welteroth, Rachel Cargle, Tara Donaldson and Janea Brown — and the three founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors-Brignac and Opal Tometi.
Conflict is hard (honestly, I generally avoid it) but talking to family and friends about the inequality and racism that Black people face is crucial, especially if they do not see their own biases. It’s not okay to stand by and listen to someone make cruel jokes or voice an ignorant viewpoint ever, and especially if that person is someone you’re close to and have the power to influence.
With more holiday celebrations coming up in the next few weeks and political conversations sure to occur, family gatherings (both virtual and in-person) could be an opportunity to share educational resources around racism in America. It’s certainly not an easy conversation, but if brought up in the right way, difficult conversations can remain respectful and helpful. Plus, at this point, those who most desperately need to be reached are the people who have not taken the time to learn about anti-racism and address their own biases.
I, the self-appointed queen of non-confrontation, won’t sit here and try to instruct you on how to speak to loved ones about this tough topic, my message, simply put, is to speak out. As far as how to talk to family and friends, Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want To Talk About Race, gives some valuable tips in this episode and corresponding article of NPR's Life Kit and Vice published some helpful suggestions a few months ago.
Nearly every brand and corporation released some sort of message supporting the Black community back in the summer, but how many have actually acted on it? Is the company you work for, the school you attend, or the organization you volunteer for actively seeking out diverse candidates for job openings? Are they reviewing pay discrepancies among teams? Speaking up is definitely hard but it’s worth asking your boss or HR personnel about the actions they are taking to make the company anti-racist and inclusive.
Outside of your own company, are brands that made promises about representation and diverse content falling short? Are they sharing their strides widely or staying quiet about the topic? Don’t be afraid to speak up—the public has to hold brands and companies accountable when they aren’t willing to do it on their own.
Now, I’m not saying to bombard your children’s teachers with requests about every effort they’re making to promote anti-racism in the classroom (don’t do that, teachers are stressed enough as it is and, I think, some of the instruction has to come from the top down). I am suggesting that parents reach out to leaders within their children’s school district to inquire about anti-racism efforts and make sure schools are staying true to any promises made back in the summer.
PTO meetings could also be a good time to inquire about anti-racism efforts and offer to help with programs within the school district. Educators are overworked as it is and, I’m sure, would welcome help with these important efforts—and even if they don’t want the help, they need to be held accountable to ensure that they are taking necessary steps to be anti-racist and inclusive.
I don’t know about you, but I signed more petitions in one month than I had over the course of my entire life back in June. And now that we are six months out from many petitions’ original signing date, it’s a great time to check and see what sort of updates are available and if any follow-up action is needed.
Creating lasting change is a process, one that requires many rounds of effort. Additionally, continue to sign petitions to show support for issues as they arise.
A large number of people spent their summer reading books like Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad and watching films like 13th, which is great! In the months since the summer, BIPOC have continued to release important books, articles, films and podcasts about the Black experience and the unjust systems that got us to this point. There are tons of anti-racism resources out there and it’s important for allies to continue their education. Take this time to learn about an aspect of anti-racism that you may be more unfamiliar with — if you learned about police brutality in the summer, why not learn about unconscious bias or racial trauma next?
Anti-racism learning is a never-ending process and, as a Black person, I am not excluded from it, either. Unhealthy narratives about my community have been shoved down my throat for as long as I can remember and depictions of Black people in mainstream media have also tainted my own views.
I don’t think, at any point, anyone can be done with their anti-racism learning—it’s a lifelong commitment. So, when you check one anti-racism book off of your reading list, find a new one to add.
Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are here to help us learn, but the problem with prejudice-related mistakes is they often happen over and over with little inward reflection—because it’s really uncomfortable to think about.
While it’s important to read books that give a 30,000-foot view, it’s equally as important to reflect on your own problematic actions, whether you stayed silent when you should have spoken up or made an ignorant comment about a group of people. Reflecting on your own biases allows you to change your thinking and keep the harmful mistake from happening again. It’s an uncomfortable thing to reflect on, for sure, but it’s necessary for anti-racism progress.
It does no good to read the latest anti-racism release if you’re not willing to reflect on how the situations in the book relate to your own past experiences and potential past harm you may have caused. I think it’s safe to say (and sad to admit) that most people have caused racism-induced hurt, whether unknowingly or knowingly and whether behind closed doors or at a dinner party.
Organizations at the forefront of Black equality and meaningful change need monetary support to continue their missions. There are tons of organizations doing wonderful work, but some of note include Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Equal Justice Initiative, Higher Heights and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. If you’re looking for just one organization, the Movement for Black Lives is a coalition that splits donations between over 150 organizations.
If you’re in a position to do so, donate to an organization you believe in. You can even set up recurring donations so support doesn’t decrease when life gets busy.
Racism, bias and unfair systems make it hard to be Black in America—at this point, that is not news to any reasonable person in this country.
While it’s crucial to further your own education and help push change along through petitions and donations, it’s also crucial to acknowledge the personal struggles that the Black people in your life face. Simply asking us how we’re doing and being there to listen goes a long way. The people I am closest with, and have grown even closer with over these past few months (heart you guys), are the ones who check in, have my back and don’t shy away from tough topics—even if their response is “I don’t know what to say.”
The only bad thing to do is nothing. The only bad thing to say is nothing. Speak up, act up and support.
Racism is rooted in so many facets of society, stereotypes have become mainstream and biased viewpoints live in so many people’s minds. Fighting racism is an uphill battle and, honestly, it won’t be fixed in our lifetimes, but it can be made better for current generations and can be made exponentially better for future generations if non-Black allies continue to do the tough work along with the Black community.
To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Don’t be silent.
Thank you, Jillian! You can find more of her writing here!