An Ally’s Perspective on Black Lives Matter

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Thea Cabrera Montejo
Senior Layout Editor

Black lives matter.

They matter in the face of a national justice system failing to hold murderers accountable.

They matter because black people, in past and present, have not been valued as highly as white feelings.

They matter regardless of what news reporters say to demonize victims of police shootings after their deaths, as if details of their lives somehow validate murder.

They matter because although all lives matter, no racial group has been exploited, oppressed, and dehumanized as much as black lives.

It is of utmost importance that we, as non-black people, understand this truth. Deconstructing our history and critically analyzing our present reality are crucial steps to exposing the presence of anti-blackness all around us. Our society has always had an infatuation with black culture, but in doing so we have failed to invest in their personhood as much as their style and swagger.

To be an ally to black people isn’t rocket science. But sometimes it might feel like a minefield of respectability politics. Good intentions can be lost in translation, and your genuine efforts may be misinterpreted. Nevertheless, that journey is necessary. And it is crucial that we take those steps ourselves, because no black friend of ours should be responsible for educating us on their humanity. We must hold ourselves accountable for being respectable and reliable allies.

Being a woman of color, I experience racism in a multitude of ways — structural, institutional, interpersonal, and even internalized. In no way am I dismissing or belittling that struggle for any marginalized identity. I am, however, conscious of the fact that in my attempt to be an ally to other communities, I must not let my agency or presence overshadow the people I am trying to help. Good intentions are not an excuse to infringe on spaces not meant for you. Imposing yourself onto a community or organization is like flaunting a sense of entitlement. Be aware of your space and identities, especially in accordance to those around you.

The rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement has grabbed global attention. And for the non-black folks who want to rise in solidarity, I felt like it was important to outline a few basic reminders of what to do when acting as an ally.

Do not tolerate anti-blackness; do not be silent.

Silence is a very abstract type of violence. When a white friend wears blackface for Halloween or a distant relative says an extremely racist joke, what do you do? Does the awkward silence mask the internal shame? Do you sigh, begrudgingly regretting your relationship with them? Either way, if you remain silent, it perpetuates that type of behavior. Your silence could be taken in various different ways: it could imply apathy, complacency, consent, or even approval.

Speaking up isn’t always easy, but when you have the privilege of doing so, be brave.

Hold yourself accountable.

People make mistakes, and although that’s not an excuse, it can pose as an opportunity for redemption. Sometimes we tend to be problematic, despite the best intentions. A very significant aspect of social justice is that there’s always room for development and space to grow.

Recognize the issue, check your privilege, apologize if necessary, and do better next time.

There is no other equivalent to being black, other than being black.

Being a person of color is not equivalent to being black. Being in any type of relationship with a black person is not equivalent to being black. There is no social exchange that could make that possible. Your one black friend on campus calling you the n-word does not mean you experience life the way they do. Recognizing this position is vital because it orients you.

Don’t try to camouflage yourself. Be your own person and act in solidarity.

You don’t get a cookie for being a good ally.

You shouldn’t need an audience to be a good ally, and you shouldn’t feel entitled to a standing ovation for supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement. Claiming it like a gold star and flaunting it as such doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t matter how many Facebook likes you get. It matters that 97 percent of police killings in 2015 did not result in any officers involved being charged. Showcasing your solidarity as if it should be rewarded is like cops using black children as props by hugging them. It’s a sham.

Show up.

When Black Student Union holds a protest, a vigil, a fundraiser, or any type of event, support it! It can be as simple as showing up. Just understand that, as a non-black person, you are attending as a supporter, as an ally — and that you are not and should not be the focal point. Recognize your privilege and agency when physically involved in a demonstration. Understand that these spaces carved out for black people are done so for their safety and comfort.

Don’t just preach your values; stand up for them.

Unfortunately, anti-blackness is alive and well — just like the orange fascist running for President of the United States. We as students, faculty, and staff at UCSB must strive to create a safe space for the two percent of African American people on campus.  We are witnessing a very harsh reality. The fight for civil rights has never been confined to our white-washed history books; it is happening out on the streets everyday. It happened to Michael Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Aiyana Jones, Samuel Dubose, Freddie Gray, Yvette Smith, and so many other innocent people who are gone but not forgotten.

Anti-blackness can be found in the roots of this great nation, and every innocent life transcribed into a hashtag is an urge to see that violence. Racism is omnipresent, but so can be the resistance. Researching books and articles in an attempt to be a better ally is a part of that resistance; watching documentaries such as 13th on Netflix is a step towards resistance; engaging in progressive conversations about race relations is a form resistance; your presence in a protest is resistance.

Every day we are faced with a quintessential question: what kind of society do we want to live in?

I propose to be the change you wish to see in the world — because together we have the potential and capacity to change it. After all, the people united will never be defeated.

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