The killing of George Floyd in police custody resulted in massive protests across more than 140 US cities and 20 countries around the world. These protests have been focused on police brutality, but also led on issues of structural and systemic racism that exist in most countries today.
As these long-standing global issues have come to the forefront of today’s discussions, so have questions on how to be an ally in the movement against anti-black racism. The road to allyship may require unlearning the teachings that you once thought true; this ongoing journey means educating oneself on the topics at hand and taking initiative. Here are resources, and some historical context, for white people and non-black people of colour who wish to be an ally.
1. Understand that systemic racism goes beyond police brutality
An early example of police brutality against unarmed African-Americans in modern times was the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. A grainy video of his assault was replayed for days on national news networks. Nearly 30 years later, the killing of George Floyd was shared across television news and social media networks. The digital age has played a pivotal role in capturing unjust aggression by police, and amplified the message for millions through sharing, retweeting and trending hashtags. The death of George Floyd magnified the conversation around systemic racism, but understanding the core of the issue goes beyond police brutality.
Systemic racism exists within the banking, education industries and even within business. It is ingrained in nearly every aspect of how people move through societies, and it disproportionately affects black people. African-Americans are underrepresented in leadership roles across business industries, have a difficult time accessing quality housing, are over-represented in the criminal justice system, and their experiences in healthcare stand in stark contrast to those of white and non-black citizens.
In the United States, unemployment has been exacerbated by the coronavirus, but has hit black Americans especially severely. Even when employed, a black worker earns just 62% of the amount a white worker is paid.
Variations of racism and injustice range from very clear discriminatory actions to the most surreptitious policies. Historical examples in the US include poll taxes and literacy tests, which required citizens to pay for their right to vote and excluded people who couldn’t read. This tactic marginalized people from low-income communities.
Segregation in cities across America may have been outlawed, but it nevertheless remains in existence in practice. Just look at Chicago’s north-south divide, Detroit’s 8 Mile Road and extensive gentrification in major cities such as Oakland and San Francisco. Income differences between white and black people are so prevalent, it leads to less lending options for black Americans to buy a home or own a business, education inequalities for children and harder to find job opportunities. The cycle of systemic racism comes in many forms, making it even more difficult to break.
2. Speak up against racism in the workplace and support black colleagues
Unfortunately, black professionals are still underrepresented in the workforce despite gains in undergraduate degrees. (For example, in 2018, 31% of black people in the US attained a university degree or higher compared to just 16% in 1992.) This lack of visibility is particularly stark in senior leadership roles, where just 3.3% of roles are currently filled by black employees. If your organisation is lacking in diversity, there are several ways to tackle the issue with your colleagues and keep an organisation accountable:
• Encourage resource groups for your black, indigenous and people-of-colour employees (BIPOC) to connect on experiences and find ways to address racism.
• If your organisation doesn’t have a diversity and inclusion team, start working on ways to develop one. Companies that build on diversity and inclusion have a greater chance of outperforming and attracting top talent.
• Apply mentorship opportunities for BIPOC employees to ensure they have equal opportunities and access to promotion.
Beyond advancement barriers, black employees often face discrimination from their co-workers. In fact, a recent Glassdoor survey found that three out of five workers in the US had seen or experienced discrimination at work. While this can be overt, it often takes the form of micro-aggressions, and may not be covered in cultural sensitivity trainings. Speaking up about race issues is often the first step allies can take against systemic racism in the workplace.
As a non-black colleague, it’s important to show your allyship and condone unjust actions against black people. However, there are better ways to support your black colleagues, starting off by just listening. By being there and hearing their experiences, you are already showing your support. As a company, it’s vital to ensure safe places exist where employees feel able to speak about what is happening.
Another way to be an ally is by educating yourself to better understand your black colleagues’ perspective. There are several books to help you learn about white privilege and how to start noticing systemic racism, while the National Museum of African American History and Culture has released an online programme that will help you learn about race through different exercises and videos.
3. Target racism in education
From experiencing a disproportionate number of suspensions to amassing more student debt, black students face more barriers than their white peers in education. It starts in school. More than 60 years ago, segregation between white and black children ended with the US Supreme Court case of Brown v Board of Education. But many schools remain segregated and unequal, due to the economic and social inequalities faced by African-American communities. Schools predominantly attended by people of colour are almost always underfunded. Though many previous laws in the Jim Crow era have been banned, conversations about segregation in today’s schools and education system are mostly non-existent.
Ensuring equitable education for black students requires action at all levels. To engage in addressing racism in education, there are many ways to learn and get involved:
• Very few books for children involve non-white main characters. As summer holidays begin, here are some books featuring black and people of colour characters for children.
• A podcast episode looking at Brown v Board of Education’s decision and the importance of having black teachers in schools.
• Schott Foundation for Public Education is a US-based resource offering information on racial injustice in the education system with a call of action to get involved in your communities.
• Code Switch listed podcasts, films and books about systemic racism, including inequality in schools, and how to have better, thoughtful conversations.
4. Petitions and political engagement
Today’s anti-black racism stems from systemic racism that has gone unaddressed for decades. These racist systems are far-reaching, and many will require sustained public efforts to fix them.
Protests, petitions and calls for action in the past few weeks have already changed business policies and governance in cities, states and countries around the world. The National Football League (NFL) previously mentioned they would charge fines to teams if players were to kneel during the national anthem, but since the George Floyd protests erupted, they have changed their stance and embraced the Black Lives Matter movement.
After the killing of an unarmed black woman in her home, the city of Louisville, Kentucky enacted the Breonna Taylor Law to ban no-knock warrants. These reforms are not restricted to the US either: Berlin became the first German state to pass a law barring public authorities, like the police, from stopping people based on race, gender or sexual orientation.
Political action from governments and other decision-makers will require continuous encouragement. That’s why reaching out to your local and national political leaders can be another way to be an ally. Petitions are another way to show your support for anti-racism in your community. Change.org is a good place to start, if looking for national or international petitions. Since many regions and countries experience racism differently, it is also good to seek out local resources for the policies that may have the most impact in your community.
Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, was honoured by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2020. The organisation she started has grown to include many local Black Lives Matter chapters around the world; finding one in your local area can give you insight in how best to get involved with your local organizers.
Social media also can be a great place to find out which policy changes activists in your area are petitioning for. Below are a few top accounts organizing against anti-black racism and police brutality that are good places to start:
There are many different ways for allies to get involved in the fight against racial injustice. The most effective thing an ally can do is get involved, stay involved, and continue educating others on the movement against anti-black racism.
Sarah Shakour, Project Specialist, Forum Foundations, World Economic Forum
Madeleine Hillyer, U.S. Media Specialist, World Economic Forum
This article was originally published in World Economic Forum.