Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/WG6iLHfMY9Y

These were originally a series of posts for more personal social media sites but, the more I consider #2 on this list, the more I thought it could be beneficial to share even on a more professionally-oriented site like LinkedIn.

I am not an expert in politics, the legal system, or foreign policy. I do my best to stay informed but there a certainly better people to speak on these things, so instead I put together a list of ways to become a better ally that are related to media, culture, the workplace, and interpersonal relationships.

Of course, this is not remotely comprehensive and are only my opinion, but I think it may help those that are looking to learn, grow and change to be able to speak to their black friends and colleagues without feeling performative and to be able to stand with them as allies in their communities and workplaces.

1. Consume content with & made by black people.

Ask yourself if you’ve watched a TV show that starred a black person (not depicted as a criminal) this month? This year? Ever? Our lives & the representation of our lives matter, not just when we are in pain but also when we are experiencing love, joy & laughter.

Please, please, please do not just spend hours watching us be oppressed, beaten and hurt.

I say this because we do not want your pity. We are not charity cases to be continously saved. We have families, we have friends, we love, we laugh, we succeed, we are intelligent, we are desirable, we are human.

Break up your segregation and slavery movies with some black rom coms.

If you love Disney watch The Princess and the Frog. Love Marvel? Blank Panther, of course! Want to watch an indie film? Check out Dope. Absurdist? Try Sorry To Bother You. Documentary? Becoming. Action? Romeo Must Die. 90s Classic? Save the Last Dance. Sci Fi? A Wrinkle in Time.

This is actually not an easy thing to research given all of the lists out there telling people to watch The Help (please watch Hidden Figures instead). So if you have a favorite genre and you want recommendations let me know!

2. Look at Your Friends

“Survey found little difference between white Democrats and white Republicans.”

Today’s ask is another simple one: Look at your friends.

Pre-COVID, think about your last night out, your last group vacation, your usual lunch table at work, your big birthday dinner, even your wedding…

How many black people were there? Were there any? Maybe just 1 that immediately noticed they were the only black person while you were comfortably not “seeing color”.

I ask you today to consider WHY that is?

Consider how you spend your time, your money and your attention. Consider if you’ve ever been the minority in a room? In your place of work? In a city? In a country? If that has ever happened, remember how you felt.

Please, don’t use this as a call to collect token black people but rather, use this as an opportunity to think about how you can organically expand your circle of friends. Take some time to talk to more people, to allow more people in and to sit longer in discomfort and vulnerability.

3. Question Your Employers

At this point, they’ve likely released a statement. Ask follow up questions.

If you’re feeling timid, start with:

  1. How much money are you donating over what span of time?
  2. What organizations will you be supporting and who has made these decisions?
  3. What percentage of our overall profits is this donation?

If you want to dig deeper, try this:

  1. What percentage of the board and executive leadership are POC?
  2. How do you plan to remove bias in the hiring and advancement process?
  3. What is the pay gap between non-white and white employees?
  4. What civil rights legislation do we support relevant to our industry? Relevant to where we have chosen to put our headquarters?
  5. Where have our leaders donated money to in past?
  6. What has our company and industry done that has exacerbated racial inequality? What steps are we taking to correct that?

I also encourage you to take the opportunity to talk with your close colleagues about salaries. The only people that benefit from talking about money being “taboo” are the wealthy. I promise those conversations will be eye-opening.

This movement is about black people but remember some black people are also women, parents, caregivers, trans, queer, or immigrants. Some have disabilities, both mental & physical. We can talk about intersectionality later, but many black people are in more than one marginalized group — ones that you may share, though the negative effects still disproportionately affect us.

So, if you want to take this opportunity to advocate for better health programs, more parental leave, funding for affinity groups, or visibility of the gender-pay gap — please do.

This is not black people against white people, this is equality for all.

  • This is a reminder that you spend more time at work than with your families & friends.
  • This is a reminder that corporations shouldn’t be patted on the back for doing the bare minimum.
  • This is a reminder that you have helped make a lot of people very rich and very comfortable, so it’s completely within your rights to let them know when you are uncomfortable.

Even if you don’t know it, I promise you, your black colleagues have and will continue to be fighting for you. Return the favor, sometimes.

4. Consider Your Privilege

Friendly reminder that when someone says you are privileged, it’s not to “shame you”.

As a cis-gendered, able-bodied, straight, American-citizen, born & raised middle class to parents with 4 degrees between them, I am in many ways more privileged than most of the world. All of these things were entirely out of my control.

I recognize those privileges. I consider how they affect my world view and I consider what I can do to level the playing field when possible. Because “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.”

When you’re asked to check your privilege, consideration is what is being asked of you. Why might something be harder for someone else than it is for you?

For example, when I lived in Stockholm I was “randomly screened” every time I left Stockholm which was approx. 12 times in 1 year — it only took an extra 10–15 minutes per trip but there was always the chance it could take longer. My husband, a white man, who came on many of those trips with me, never got screened. But, we got there a bit earlier to accommodate my time table, not his. Allowing the extra time for travel benefited me greatly while having no real impact on him. That’s a very small way to understand what privilege looks like & how you can accommodate others.

Unfortunately, it’s often the most privileged that believe nothing was handed to them, nothing was luck, they earned everything they have and anyone that can’t just pull themselves up their bootstrap is lazy. But another one of my favorite quotes is “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.”

The test linked above is by no means comprehensive (I got 53 out of 100 if you’re curious). I wouldn’t normally say, “Ok, time to have a privilege contest!” because a lot of aspects of privilege are situational and the test doesn’t take into account the differences in severity of different aspects and what you’re able to hide vs. What you choose to hide.

I don’t think this quiz is perfect but having worked with data for so long now, I know some type of benchmark/context (+quizzes) really helps people understand a concept more acutely, especially when not considered before.

I think for people that have had more awareness and understanding of this concept can certainly have a much more eloquent and nuanced conversation that is larger than a Buzzfeed quiz.

5. Buy Black

Consider the items/services you usually buy. Could you order delivery from a black-owned restaurant or coffee shop? Can you get your skin products or clothing from a black-owned retailer? Could you have a black dentist, plumber, gardener, lawyer?

Eventually, when the world opens up again, redistributing your money in this way also helps in my ask to try to broaden your circle of friends because it puts you in places you would not normally be interacting with people you wouldn’t normally interact with. Can you go to black-owned clubs? Bowling alleys? Movie theatres? Banks?

In addition to your investment, your word of mouth recommendations are what keep small businesses opened across the world. I believe so many donations end up being necessary because our communities have been deprived of resources thus we are constantly in a state of victim to savior relationship with our white allies rather than in a state of equality.

Some examples of how/why wealth leave our communities:

  • Commuters coming into majority-minority cities, make their salaries and then taking their wealth back out, resulting in better schools & resources in the majority-white suburbs.
  • Spending our money at Target & Amazon instead of buying from our friends and neighbors.
  • An insane combination of food deserts & gentrification resulting in most having to buy outside of the community out of necessity due to unavailability or inaccessibility. (Even when I lived in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Baltimore, the $12 burger place was a closer walk than the nearest grocery store and the boutique shops with dresses that cost almost a week’s wages, at the time, meant that I went to the suburbs to get to a discount retailer.)

(Obviously, the burden to ensure resources are available does not rest solely on us and of course, there are systems in place that make it much harder for black people to own businesses, but we will talk how the government constantly fails us later…)

Long story short, just google “black-owned _________ in *whatever city*” and you’ll find plenty of resources to help you. If you don’t, I’m sure a quick search on Twitter will get you a few lists!

I will admit that this is something we are very bad at, as well and I’m taking steps to do better. I know it’s not easy to always do this with the ubiquity & sometimes lower cost of Amazon and big-box stores, so my plan to start is to ensure that at least 1 purchase per week is from a minority-owned (preferably black-owned) business. I hope as the lockdown eases, we can increase that significantly.

My London friends, if you have recommendations, please share them. I will add, I have not lost sight of the fact that it is pride month and I would love to support queer-owned establishments, also because “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.”

Summary: Become Familiar with the Black Experience

So I’ve been trying to figure out the final point I wanted to make and what it comes down to is: Become Familiar with the Black Experience.

I grew up as a first-generation Nigerian American in a middle-class family in predominantly white schools.

I know all about Hanukkah, I can pronounce the last names of my Polish friends, I know basically every word to Mean Girls, I can dance to Cotton Eyed Joe, I can sing along to “Sweet Home Alabama”, I can name all of the Kardashians and I’ve had my fair share of meatloaf and coleslaw.

Obviously, these are mostly trivial, stereotypical examples but the point is, I have grown up surrounded by white culture. As a kid raised in the suburbs it’d be impossible to get by without it. (We can talk about code-switching later…)

But as a white person, you can get through life completely fine without ever understanding another person’s culture. I am reminded of this whenever I go to work with a new hairstyle and people ask questions, when people I’ve known for years trip over themselves pronouncing my last name, when I talk about a character from Living Single instead of Friends or when I start singing an R&B song that never made it to pop radio. (Shout out to my boy Sammie singing “I Like It”).

The reason we get frustrated with these situations is that it’s never the other way around. It was imperative that I formed an opinion on Backstreet Boys vs *NSYNC. Of course, I knew all of the characters on the OC. I read almost entirely books authored by white people in school and I think I had just 1 black teacher my entire life. I had a white doctor, a white dentist, I had 1 black boss when I was an intern and after 7.5 years of higher education, I had just 2 black instructors. There was no expectation the other way around. I had to know your shows and mine. I had to read your books and mine. I had to know your history and my own. And now, we say it is not our job to educate you because we’ve spent our entire lives learning & doing everything twice.

I grew up in love with Shawn Hunter and Usher. I grew up wanting to be Hilary Banks and Peyton Sawyer. I listened to blink-182 and Fela Kuti. I considered Baltimore city and the Baltimore suburbs both my home. I had no choice but to support black businesses because who was going to do my hair? Where were we going to get the ingredients to make Nigerian food?

Though I walk with the weight of being a black woman, I also bounce with the levity of having a rich mix of culture & experiences where jollof rice, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and Warped Tour are all equal parts of my identity.

There is no way to fully understand the black experience. There isn’t a singular black experience but there are cultural touchstones, shared victories and of course, shared traumas that we’ve lived through (often without you noticing), while also being expected to know all of yours.

If you’re also looking to donate, please see my previous post:

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

US ex-pat in London. Loves: Music, travel, data, marketing. christineosazuwa.com

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