July 10, 2020 by Abby Samuels and Yacine Sy
Photo by Joel Kiggundu ('19)
George Floyd’s case was one of the few cases of racial injustice noticed by social media, but it’s daunting to think of the many cases similar to Mr. Floyd’s that have not gathered the social media attention that caused law enforcement to act. Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Dante Parker, Michelle Cusseaux, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Matthew Ajidabe are a few names out of the myriad of innocent lives lost since 2014 when the Black Lives Matter movement originated, in memorandum of Eric Garner’s death.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement originated as a result of police brutality inflicted on African Americans. Consequently, the movement aims to combat racism and the corrupt justice system. This battle should not solely be fought by members of the Black community. To agitate for change, individuals from all communities must stand in solidarity with the BLM movement.
Like all other political or social movements, misconceptions about the campaign have run rampant. A misconception following the Black Lives Matter movement is a belief that only Black lives matter, or Black lives matter more than other minorities. We know all lives matter, but if that statement was wholly true we would not be protesting for the equality we should already have. In a viral photo, six-year-old Armani from Tennessee holds a poster that reads: “We said ‘Black lives matter’/ Never said ‘only Black lives matter’/We know ‘all lives matter’/We just need your help with #BlackLivesMatter for Black lives are in danger!” This is the understanding held by the Black community.
People may wonder: what could fuel international outrage when so many of these outrageously racist practices, such as slavery and segregation, were outlawed so long ago? In an era that has seen a Black man sit as Commander in Chief for the United States, what could cause such uproar? The answer lies in understanding racism past its social manifestations. It’s bigger than a handful of slurs, segregated washrooms, or hurt feelings. Racism’s power partially lies in its systemic nature. It influences the policies, laws, education, health care, and programs that largely govern how we, and the generations before us, have lived life and continue to do so.
Past and present systemic racism, such as redlining, discrimination in the workforce, discrimination in education and many others, has made it impossible for generations of minorities to succeed. Blaming the social and economic position of minorities, especially African Americans, on a lack of hard work, personal responsibility, and moral character blatantly disregards the system built to ensure failure despite any morals Black people may uphold. Unless addressed by those in power, gaps created by policies such as disproportionate wealth distribution, disparities in health care and education, and most infamously, criminal justice, will continue to grow.
With the facts laid out, what must come next is action. During a pandemic where in-person activity is limited, a great form of action is allyship. According to Forbes, allyship is the “lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.”
Allyship is recognizing the issue in performative activism and apolitical “silence.” Performative activism, which is activism done to increase social capital instead of genuine devotion, does not add any substance. Your black square on Black Out Tuesday meant nothing if you were silent on the issue before and after you posted it. Consistently following through on your beliefs by signing petitions, sharing information and supporting credible organizations monetarily, if possible, are tangible steps that can be taken. To be aware is one step, to act accordingly is the next.
Allyship is initiating uncomfortable conversations with family members and friends who make racist remarks. Often, these people are not openly racist but instead will share their feelings in private spaces. Having these difficult discussions is imperative for change, especially where Black people are not present. As an ally, challenging others’ unchecked biases not only reduces the perpetuation of racist ideas, but also provokes thought and changes in perspective.
Allyship is a state of constantly learning, as well as unlearning. Learn that backhanded compliments do much more harm than good. Telling someone “they’re pretty for a Black person” or “you talk white” is not a compliment. Racism and racial biases occur on many levels, which requires personal awareness and introspection to undo them. Ask yourself, why am I shamelessly supportive of climate change issues, but am hesitant on racial injustices? “You have to consciously be checking and correcting yourself because some racist notions occur on a subconscious level,” says SMUS alum Michelle Nakacwa (’19).
As a global community, we are going through a viral and a racial pandemic. As part of the SMUS community, we pride ourselves on respect, honesty, service, and courage, and there is no better time to demonstrate our values. We collectively need to take action. As stated by Joel Kiggundu (’19), “Racism is another aspect of hate that we see in the world. Although it may be impossible to completely get rid of racism in this day and age, going forward we must unite to mitigate its power through love and respect for one another.”
Yacine Sy ('18) is a sophomore at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Abby Samuels ('20) is heading to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. This article is also published on SMUS Weekly.