how to be an ally

How to be an ally at a Black Lives Matter protest in Canada

How to be an ally at a Black Lives Matter protest in Canada

If you're wondering how to be a good ally at a Black Lives Matter march in Canada, you're not alone.

The Racial Equity Tools Glossary defines an "ally" as: "Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways."

Good allyship is, as many have said, a verb and not a noun; something that needs to be regularly and actively practiced, and not just a label or end state.

And, it is a careful balance between using your privilege to speak up for a cause without dominating the voices of those you're fighting for. Allyship is, first and foremost, about listening to the lived experiences of Black individuals while protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality against people of colour continue to arise around the globe.

General tips how to be an ally

Educate yourself

Like with any type of allyship, it is not the duty of the oppressed group to have to prove their oppression or educate you about its history. They are burdened enough and don't need to serve as teacher.

Read books and articles, listen to podcasts and speeches, watch documentaries and videos. Seek out Black voices and lift them up. Use Google.

Examine yourself

It's on white people to scrutinize the systems we live in, participate in, and actively benefit from, and also to look inside ourselves and do the hard work. Comprehensive resources specifically on good allyship are also available.

Actually take action

Some people might feel unsure of what to say in this moment, or intimidated by the mass amount of knowledge and information that is being shared across social media (and their own lack of knowledge).

But staying mum on an issue that has to do with the basic human rights of others is being complicit in their oppression. It is telling of your privilege to be able to stay silent on a subject like racism, as it means that you are not personally affected by it.

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor," activist Desmond Tutu famously said. 

Action can look like sharing information and resources to enlighten or help others, speaking up when you witness racism, having tough conversations on the topic with loved ones, donating money to relevant organizations and initiatives, looking at what the companies you support stand for, signing petitions, calling or writing to local politicians, physically getting out into the streets to protest, and more.

Don't re-traumatize

Sharing new knowledge and resources as you learn more is great, but carefully consider what you choose to repost and always include trigger warnings if you feel they may be warranted.

Violent images and videos, such as the nine-minute video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, can be extremely traumatizing to people of colour and do not necessarily need to be shared to get the point across.

how to be an ally

How to be an ally at a protest

Protect Black bodies

In incidents where police are involved — including at demonstrations and rallies — use your body as a shield to physically protect the people of colour around you whenever possible. This is also important if counter-protesters or racist groups turn up to an event.

You may have seen the video of the teenage girl who placed herself between a Black protester, who was kneeling in the grass, and oncoming line of officers. Or, the photo of the demonstrator who wore a shirt saying "if they open fire, stand behind me," on the back. These have been lauded as a real-life demonstrations of good allyship.

Check in with people of colour around you

Protecting Black bodies also means genuinely checking in on the people of colour in your life — though being sure not to pry or burden them with your own feelings — to see how they're holding up and what support you can offer them or the cause. And, make sure to check in on the safety of your fellow protestors during events.

Vocally support, but don't overshadow

It's important to use your voice to fight racism right now, but it's also imperative to amplify and make all of the space for the voices and stories of Black residents.

Many activists on the ground have asked that white allies do not do things like start chants, speak to news media as a face of a protest or escalate things (looting, altercations with police, etc.) under any circumstances.

Also, do not act as an authority of any kind on the movement, or co-opt the work that people have colour have done for the cause. And be sure to follow the directions of event organizers and black protesters, which may include calls for "allies to the front."

Be mindful of why you're there

Spending time taking photos or otherwise being on your phone during protests is a nono, as is centering your experience at an event around yourself. ("Look at what a great ally I'm being!")

Crucially, do not reduce your allyship to something that is simply performative, virtue-signalling or somehow about you — we've all seen that video of the influencer who used a protest as an Instagram photo shoot, and no one wants to be like her.

how to be an allyThrough all of this, it is important to remember that allyship means perpetual learning and that making mistakes is inevitable, but alright so long as you are constantly eager to learn and improve. ("Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better," as Maya Angelou said.)

Allyship also, in this day and for this cause, needs to be more than just not racist, but anti-racist to actually spark change; more than just "someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege," but someone who is an active accomplice "working in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice."

And with the sheer number of people now protesting the inherent racism in policing and in other societal systems worldwide, there is no doubt that change is coming.

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