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As I sat down to write this column, I did so with a heavy heart. Breonna’s Taylor’s murderers are still roaming free, Jacob Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down from being shot in the back by police, and according to Clayton Perry, racism does not exist in San Antonio. As a Black man who has lived in San Antonio for 15 years, I can tell you we are not free from racism.
How loud must we scream, how many letters must be written, how many City Council meetings must be disrupted, for people to understand that Black lives matter?
In light of these recent events and tragedies, there has been a heightened consciousness around race issues, specifically pertaining to the Black community. Many of my white friends who see themselves as allies have asked, “What can I do?” I always struggle with this question because I feel that doing what is right should come naturally and not be scripted.
“Allyship is not my favorite word. I’ve too often witnessed it as a performance, rather than the deep work required to dismantle anti-Black racism,” stated Kiran Kaur Bains, director of community impact at SA2020. “I haven’t found the need to find a word to replace it, either. I’m just looking to do the work.
“As a South Asian woman, the work for me is about undoing internalized racism (the conscious and subconscious ways in which I have accepted the inferiority of people of color), while also identifying what my spheres of influence and control are to [effect] change across institutions. And, in San Antonio, we have the shared Community Vision, so we know exactly what we’re working toward.”
Now that City Council has acknowledged that racism is a public health crisis, it seems we have gained a few more allies. Some have even raised a fist and blacked out their social media pages to show support and solidarity for the fight for racial justice and equality. Although raising awareness through digital platforms is welcomed, those symbolic gestures do little to challenge large oppressive power structures, which need advocacy, not acting, to disassemble.
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To do this, the Black community needs good allies who are willing to take on the Black community’s struggles as their own, transfer the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it, and acknowledge that the conversation is not about them.
“Being an ally to me is about acting with and on behalf of those who do not share the same privileges as I,” said Natalie Arredondo, a local mental health specialist. “It’s about helping to amplify voices that are not my own and calling out discriminatory and racist behavior without fear. It’s about working in solidarity with the Black community in pursuit of achieving justice and creating equality.”
My mom always told me that when you own something, you care about it more. Taking ownership of our struggle provides more room for empathy. Empathy transforms conflict and supports sustainable collaborative action and positive social change.
A good ally understands the burdens that Black people carry and must be willing to receive those burdens as their own. Whether marching side-by-side in protest, organizing communities, or writing lawmakers, every effort helps in reaching our collective goals.
Furthermore, good allies must be willing to transfer the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it and use themselves as a shield to protect Black people from racist and antagonistic threats. Allies should use their voice and position to ask questions, raise issues, and add perspectives that are not emerging organically in discussions. The oppressed rarely have this type of platform to express their concerns.
Equally as important, our allies must understand that the conversation is not about them. Learning when to step up and when to step back is fundamental to ensuring that your voice does not become an obstacle for the same people you intend to help. I will also note that mistakes will happen. Slip-ups like expecting all of your education to come from your Black friends and planning well-intentioned rallies without Black representation do occur. When they do, allies should own it and learn from those directly affected by the issue.
As we have seen in recent weeks, more and more white community leaders are stepping up by providing free mental health workshops to protesters and meeting spaces to organizers, as well as using their platforms to call out divisive racist comments. As you aspire to get involved, it is essential to understand that Black people do not have all the answers to the systemic problems we face – problems that we did not create.
To be Black in this country means living in fear and anxiety every day. From the anxiety of taking a jog in your neighborhood to tension stemming from a routine traffic stop – all of it is stressful, and it creates an unhealthy situation.
Now more than ever, the Black community needs more people who do not look like us to get involved by continually using their power, authority, and resources to advocate for Black people and Black businesses. And though this fight is not about you, Black people cannot create significant and sustainable change without you.