How Can We Be Better Anti-Racist Allies?

Step one: put in the work — and not just on social media.

By noon, posts with the hashtag #blackouttuesday outnumbered #blacklivesmatter. 

Originally started by Black music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, Blackout Tuesday was meant to be a day for the music industry to hold itself accountable for its long history of profiting from the work of Black artists even as major power-holders remain disproportionately white.

But Blackout Tuesday quickly spiraled out of control, as the creators’ intentions were subverted and their project morphed into something troubling to activists: non-Black “allies” were flooding Instagrams with black squares. Sometimes they included links with helpful resources, like bail fund donation sites. Sometimes they added a lone black heart emoji in the caption. Most concerning were the posts that tagged #blacklivesmatter, as this searchable hashtag is normally populated with useful information — petitions, protest updates and donation funds — for the movement. But once contextless black squares joined the mix, all of those resources were effectively buried (at least temporarily). 

By 12 p.m. on June 2, #blackouttuesday had tallied nearly 22 million posts on Instagram, while #blacklivesmatter, a social media resource years in the making, had 16.2 million. People took to Twitter to voice their concerns over performative allyship. It’s easy for non-Black people to post a black square, a few hashtags, and call it a day. Actually contributing tangibly to the cause takes more effort.

Being anti-racist is something that everyone, myself included, needs to work hard to get better at. This article isn’t meant to be an “anti-racist how-to guide,” where if you check off all the things on the list, you’ll be automatically granted self-virtue. These are just a few ways you can take your well-intentioned energy and funnel it into positive action, year-round:

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

If you’re financially able, please consider donating to bail funds. The Bay Area Anti-Repression Committee, the People’s Breakfast Oakland and the Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America are good places to start. The San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is also providing legal support for protestors arrested while demonstrating for racial justice.

There are also other Bay Area organizations to consider donating to:

  • The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights is responsible for creating the Bay Area Police Watch — an online database for people to report police misconduct — and “organizes with Black, Brown, and low-income people to shift resources away from police, prisons and punishment, and towards opportunities that make our communities safe, healthy, and strong.”
  • The East Oakland Collective brings food and supplies to unhoused and other vulnerable populations.
  • Organized by transgender, gender variant and intersex leaders, the TGI Justice Project is dedicated to gender justice, prison abolition and supporting Black trans women.
  • The Community Ready Corps focuses on its nine “components of self-determination” for disenfranchised communities, one of which is community safety.
  • The Anti Police-Terror Project is dedicated to creating a “replicable and sustainable model to eradicate police terror in communities of color.”
  • Planting Justice cares about food sovereignty and justice for exploited food workers. The organization has planted over 450 edible gardens around the Bay Area.
  • The Roots Community Health Center uses healthcare, housing and advocacy to meet the impact of systemic inequalities like poverty.
  • Based in the Tenderloin, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District is the world’s first legally-recognized transgender cultural district. Founded by three Black trans women in 2017, the district’s history goes back to the 1920s. 
  • Venmo Black Earth Farms, an East Bay farming collective that will be donating food to Black protestors and organizers in Oakland.
  • SoOakland LLC’s GoFundMe is for Black-owned businesses that have been impacted during recent protests.

Support Black-Owned Businesses

Justin Phillips, a food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, asked an important question in his column on Black culture last year: “Does San Francisco support Black-owned restaurants?” After noticing a disturbing trend of Black-owned restaurants closing before their prime, Phillips wondered about the root causes, one of which is, of course, money. San Franciscans need to be active patrons of Black-owned restaurants if they want to see them stick around.

Another Chronicle food writer, Soleil Ho, has compiled a searchable list of Black-owned restaurants and pop-ups in the Bay Area. Check out the list, and be generous while tipping. Similar logic applies elsewhere too — take a look at the Bay Area Organization of Black-Owned Business’ directory the next time you shop.

Surviving the COVID-19 pandemic will be tough for all retailers, but ordering from Black-owned restaurants, pop-ups and businesses is one way to show tangible, financial support in the Bay Area.

I also recommend reading Ruth Gebreyesus’s KQED essay, “Eating at Black-Owned Restaurants Isn’t Going to Save Us,” and interrogate your own reasons for dining at Black-owned restaurants. Ask: Are they motivated by self-important glory or virtue?

Call and Email for Better Policies and Justice

Find your representative in California and call to support Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Barbara Lee, and Karen Bass’s resolution to condemn police brutality. The script is here.

Another bill to take note of is the CRISES Act. If passed, the CRISES Act will direct funding towards community-based emergency responses. As we know from George Floyd’s murder and numerous incidents of police brutality, calling the cops can and will endanger Black people. The CRISES Act will be a pilot program that offers safer alternatives. Email Governor Gavin Newsom and assemblymembers Anthony Rendon and Phil Ting at this link to show your support.

If you’re angry about Floyd’s death, call or email the Minneapolis mayor and district attorney. Black Lives Matter has compiled a resource for this here. To send an email to the Louisville police department to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, click this link. To send an email to Nebraska government officials to demand justice for James Scurlock, click this link.

Attend a March

Marches aren’t for everyone, especially in a pandemic. But for those who feel comfortable going out need to be prepared. Over the past week, multiple videos have surfaced showing police striking protestors and journalists (so much for free speech). Wear a mask, carry cash, and bring water for tear gas and milk for pepper spray. Wired has a comprehensive list of tips on how to protest safely and a guide on how to protect your privacy

A tip from a journalist: If you don’t want your picture in the papers, try to stay away from the press, cover your face as best you can and wear plain clothing without markings. Legal precedent allows news organizations to publish photos of people in public spaces.

If you’re struggling to find a march near you, reach out to friends for help. Sometimes people post about protests on social media, so someone you know — or someone they know — might have more information. You can also reach out to the Black Lives Matter Bay Area chapter or other local advocacy groups for more information. 

Watch, Read, Listen

Anti-racist reading lists are everywhere. And they’ve expanded to include podcasts, TV shows and films as well. Some popular options include Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Anti-Racist, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ multimedia project and podcast 1619 and Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th. If you plan on educating yourself through this media, it’s also worth reading Lauren Michele Jackson’s analysis of the anti-racist reading list in Vulture, which warns against approaching recommended art “zoologically.”

So why do reading? One reason is self-interrogation, and that will always be an ongoing process. Author Ijeoma Oluo put it best in a viral tweet: “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

This article has been updated to include more information.

Grace Z. Li covers arts, culture and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at gli@sfweekly.com or follow her on Twitter @gracezhali.

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