I’ll be perfectly honest: In light of recent events, my first inclination was to update a reading list I collected back in 2016 regarding racism, police brutality, and historical amnesia. But then, a friend of mine reposted this statement from author Rebekah Borucki on her Instagram, and I realized this was not an appropriate response. Borucki’s statement reads:
If your house was on fire, you wouldn’t buy a book on how to become a firefighter. If your child was dying, you wouldn’t sign up for medical school. And when Black people are being murdered, the response shouldn’t be to sip tea and start a book club. Read your books, but take action like it’s an emergency. Because it is.
Yes, talk is cheap. But so is “solidarity” when it is performative, centered around non-Black individuals, and focused on how this “allyship” will make them feel. As activist Rachel Cargle points out, “Anti-racism work is not self-improvement work for white people.” The same goes for non-Black POC, myself included. Cargle explains in an interview for InStyle:
It’s not enough to say, ‘Oh, I know it’s happening and I hope it gets better….It’s saying, ‘I see you and I feel you and I understand, and I’m going to hold myself accountable. That is what will move someone into action to say, ‘I can no longer be complacent. I can no longer be silent. It’s not enough to be not racist. I have to be actively anti-racist.
In an effort to provide support for the activism happening across the country, Dinner Party Managing Editor Polly Gregory and I have collected this list of resources for folks who want to participate. Though protesting and other in-person actions are absolutely necessary, we recognize that not all individuals are able to do so for a variety of reasons, and we have included resources for folks to engage in activism beyond the streets. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor do we claim to be a singular authority on these matters, and we welcome any additions or comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For non-Black individuals attending protests…
We acknowledge that there are many resources circulating at the moment regarding this subject. These guidelines have been collected from experienced activists and other anti-racist resources, and they have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. For a more comprehensive list, including medical care at protests and legal rights involving protests and arrests, please consult this guide.
Basic guidelines recommend wearing nondescript clothing and covering up tattoos to avoid individual identification; writing emergency contacts and legal aid phone numbers on your arm should you face a legal or medical emergency; and bringing a mask, gloves, water, hand sanitizer or wipes, goggles or other eye protection, and heat-resistant gloves to throw tear gas away. Additionally, make sure you verify that a legitimate anti-racist group is organizing the event you plan to attend, as protests are being staged by white supremacists to intentionally disrupt these efforts and harm protestors.
If you choose to bring a cell phone, turn it on airplane mode so your data and location are not tracked. Use a strong password and take photos or videos without unlocking your phone, as police legally need a warrant to search a locked device. Record what you see, focus on recording police activity, and be mindful of not identifying other protestors in the process.
Do not taunt or provoke police in any way. Do not bring weapons or any substances that may give police grounds to begin arrests. Do not throw things, damage things, set things on fire, push or scream at police, as they are waiting for any excuse to exercise violence at a “full riot” and will focus their efforts on restraining and harming Black protestors. If you see other white folks provoking police, surround them and stop them. If the police demand that the crowd disperse, pay attention to the Black protestors present and be prepared to serve as a blockade from the police if deemed necessary. Pay attention to your surroundings and to police movements as they attempt to cut off or surround Black individuals.
Keep your main objective not to get arrested. Boston-based activist Willow Reader says:
Arrests in large protests are really uncommon. Activists typically plan to get arrested if it is strategic to do so. They have safety plans in place. Don’t act as a lone agent, and don’t escalate without consulting others. Sometimes things happen and stepping in is necessary, but don’t engage if you aren’t trained and prepared to do that.
That said, have a plan in place in case you are arrested. Inform someone you trust with your location and plans before you leave, and have them check in on you to ensure your safety. Make arrangements for your pets and responsibilities, and set aside or make arrangements for bail money for yourself at at least one Black protestor.
Above all, do not let your anger overshadow your support for the Black community. Follow the lead of Black protestors present, and do not “take the stage” from them at any point. Keep your eyes and ears open, your mouth shut, and remember that none of this is about you.
If you are unable to attend in-person protests…
“People seek justice and support liberation in an array of ways,” note the folks at Beyond the Streets, “yet their bodies, their spirits, and their lives may not allow them to be in the streets.” They have compiled an extensive guide on alternative ways for individuals to engage in activism. A few excerpts:
To provide immediate support for protestors, you can offer to be the emergency contact for people attending marches and rallies. Get the person’s full legal name and date of birth. Know the numbers for the National Lawyer’s Guild, Central Booking, local precincts, and local hospitals. You can also cook a pre- or post-event meal or coordinate or provide childcare for people attending marches, rallies, and protests. More broadly, Beyond the Streets encourages participation through skill sharing, including translating documents, facilitating trainings on community security, providing medical support, and helping write curriculum for educators to talk to their students about these issues.
Starting conversations is likewise important, and personal connections go a long way in terms of challenging anti-Black racism in your own circles. Here’s an older resource we’ve shared previously regarding the Ferguson protests that is unfortunately still relevant today, particularly in addressing ignorant or misguided questions and statements. Rachel Cargle and Ericka Hart have also posted helpful templates and suggested responses on their respective Instagram feeds.
The resource shared in the previous section also has a number of recommendations regarding signing petitions, phone scripts for contacting officials, and suggestions on where to donate. The document suggests prioritizing smaller, local organizations or giving direct aid to protestors and those in need. It also provides notes of caution and additional information for donors to be wary of fake donation links and places that do not post bail.
Amplifying the protests by circulating information on your social media is important, but do so with the utmost care. Designer Manassaline Coleman posted a few guidelines on “Virtual Protesting 101,” including considerations for your audience and the content of the post. Post about breaking news and share the voices of Black protestors, but do not share images that could help identify individuals. Coleman points out, “In the past, people who have been identified through photos were incarcerated and ended up dead. Make sure you have their consent before posting.”
Additionally, think hard before posting images with graphic content. “Circulation of these images is another form of oppression,” Coleman notes. Research has shown that “looking at videos and TV news about viral killings served as visual reminders of African American’s low social position,” and this distress is linked to PTSD and depressive symptoms among Black and Latinx adolescents. Further, a previous study found that one in four people who watched distressing images of violent events developed symptoms of PTSD. Utilize trigger warnings, content notes, and/or pixelation should you choose to post graphic content, or find another way to convey the same message without running the risk of re-traumatizing the folks you are trying to support.
A few other thoughts for fellow non-Black individuals moving forward…
It is imperative that we constantly question our actions and intentions with our work that aims to support the Black community. Before taking up space, in either the physical or virtual spheres, make sure that Black voices and efforts are amplified, and the focus isn’t on yourself. Multidisciplinary artist, educator, healer and activist Jana Lynne Umipig points out in an Instagram post:
Your Solidarity work is not embodied if:
You treat your actions of solidarity as a check list. A post/repost, attending the protest, and reading “White Fragility” are not the deep work.
You look for praise from who you claim solidarity with. No one is going to pat you on the back for acting as you always should anyway in honorable relation.
You only show up in solidarity within spaces where solidarity is supported. The point of being in solidarity is to be in full relationship to aligned liberation from oppression and struggle—If you can’t confront that in the places where it’s most difficult to then what are you doing?
You only show up to solidarity when it is trending. Solidarity is about commitment to loving, accountable, empowering relation. This is not about solidarity in this moment, we must rise in solidarity for lifetimes.
Managing Editor Polly Gregory adds regarding allyship on social media,
Awareness is important, but it is merely the surface level of what has to be done. Before posting, stop and ask yourself why you are sharing this: Is it to add to your social capital by signaling that you are a good person? Or is there an actionable item to help fight against injustice?
Moreover, it is imperative that we acknowledge that the systems we have in place are inherently anti-Black, and we as non-Black individuals have benefitted in some form from anti-Blackness. Thus, it is our responsibility to take action, and we should not ask our Black friends and neighbors to help us do this. This is emotional labor that they do not owe us, and a plethora of resources (like Google!) are readily available to help us educate ourselves. And let’s face it, we’re going to screw up and feel ashamed and guilty. But as activist and community organizer Leslie Mac states in an interview with Refinery29:
This isn’t about shame. I find shame to be a useless emotion that will keep people stuck where they are and focused on their own feelings. Guilt is something true allies need to confront on a regular basis. Not just the feeling of guilt, but what needs to be done in order to take action because of the guilt they feel.
Mac notes that as allies, we must prepare ourselves to make mistakes. And when—not if—they happen, it is up to us to have the humility to admit that we are wrong, listen to revolutionary Black voices, and commit to doing better, not just when it is safe or convenient to do so, but permanently.