In a continued effort to honour our commitment of becoming better advocates for our Black readers, we’ve been discussing the concept of non-performative action and how to support the Black Lives Matter Movement in more beneficial ways with our contributors and our community. Here, blogger, educator, and beauty connoisseur Nancy Meyah, (one of STYLE Canada‘s very own #LeadingLadies), outlines six introspective actions to take to become a better ally.
#1: Look at your neighbourhood and ask yourself what you can do to make the Black families near you feel included.
“As a person that is Black and grew up a visible minority, moving was stressful. Starting in a new neighbourhood came with its own challenges and anxiety. The constant feeling of rejection and lack of acceptance loomed over us as a family. We ate different food than most of our neighbors and we had different cultural practices.
For those that have used the immigration process as way to move to Canada like my family did, once your application is approved you are provided with resources, tools, and visuals (i.e. videos, photos, and testaments) about the new life and journey your family is about to partake in. I remember that in these videos, Canada was represented as such a friendly, welcoming place. For the most part, Canada has provided many of those testaments. But soon after moving, I noticed that my colour is the first thing people noticed. Neighbours would give us the cold shoulder or look stressed when we moved into a new place.
That sense of belonging was stripped away from us and we have to constantly prove that we belong here. Sometimes that means throwing away your whole identity just to make a white Canadian feel welcome in your presence. Things like turning down the music in my car before leaving my parking spot, or my mom not cooking certain dishes in fear that the smell will offend the white family living next to us. I could provide so many examples to legitimize my case, but just know that I’m one of millions of other people with these kinds of stories.
The goal is to have those with privilege, especially white privilege, look within themselves and check the stereotypical thoughts that run consciously or unconsciously through their heads when it comes to new or current Black neighbours. Will you be the neighbour that closes their blinds or tightens their grip on their purse when a Black person walks by? Or are you going to be the one that welcomes people and shows them the nearest grocery store, gas station, or playground?”
#2: Check out your city hall and its representatives.
“As a voter, ask yourself: are the elected officials representing your community as a whole? Are the individual and their viewpoints one-sided? Are they bringing positive changes to your neighbourhood? Are the leaders in your city hall working for the collective or just one group of people?
These are some things you can begin to put in perspective when you are thinking of becoming an ally with Black Lives Matter Movement or any movement that supports the dismantling of systemic racism. It is dangerous for humanity to have those with racist viewpoints and ideologies become part of our political structure. Just because something is legal does not mean it’s not immoral or dangerous.”
#3: Connect with Black Lives Matter organizers and seek ways to support them in your community.
“In the past couple of weeks, we saw large movements and protests begin in support of Black Lives Matter. Please understand that this movement did not just start this year because of George Floyd‘s death. This movement has been in the blood of Black Americans, Africans, and the Black diaspora for centuries. The Black community has been crying out for the world to hear their voices.
As group, we are tired of seeing young men that look like us being murdered in front the world. Our voices for justice have been falling on deaf ears. We wanted to avoid the killings of Black people for years, and had we been heard, maybe George Floyd would have been here with his family, along with Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other Black lives lost.
If your city held a Black Lives Matter protest and you are serious about supporting the voices of those working day in and day out, get in contact with the organizers. You can reach out and ask them what they need if you don’t know where to start. Reaching out for information that can help can you become a better ally is a great way to not only educate yourself, but a great way to be in direct contact with the voices making change.”
#4: Check out the schools your children attend.
“As person that’s worked in child services, the saying that racism is not something you are born with but something that is taught was very prevalent. Us adults, educators, and parents have to be mindful about how we project our thoughts and behaviours onto our children. School is the most vital place where children learn or unlearn their behaviours.
If you’re an individual who holds power and leadership within the school system, it is your job to push for change and positive interaction among youth. What is being taught behind school walls has to be true to the world and the environment in which children are living in. Simple tasks like allowing children to speak about their heritage and culture opens up confidence and increases self-esteem. Having books that reflect the diversity of a classroom is important too and I don’t know who needs to hear this, but, the history of Black people did not start with slavery.”
#5: Check out your city’s libraries.
“Field trips to the local library were something I looked forward to. Libraries are a resource of education for the community, which is why they’re often placed at the heart of it. What good are they if the people around are not represented inside? People should have a say in the literature placed in their community library. People should feel safe where they borrow books.
If you’re a librarian or an administrator, asking the people that are regulars in your facilities for their input can be a good place to start. As an ally or someone wanting to build ally-ship with the Black community, your voice matters. If you want to use your voice to stand up for others, this is a small gesture that can make a large difference in the tranquility of your community.”
#6: Check your attitude if you’re in a position of leadership.
“I cannot stress this enough. Time and time again, I’ve constantly been made to feel insecure about my hair and my skin colour. People notice those things before my intelligence. For many Black people, these anxieties begin way before their hiring date; sending out resumes and contemplating if using their ethnic name in fear it might sound “ghetto”, “too black” or too “ethnic”.
When we do get called back for an interview, questioning our hairstyle in hopes that we don’t come off as too “Afro-centric” or “unprofessional”. Something that grows out of our own head, something that is natural, can make others so uncomfortable that they will forgo your skills on paper. Black hair is one of those things that brings such negative feelings into the work place. I remember having to ask a boss if it’s acceptable to braid my hair in single braiding style. Something we as Black and African people use as a sign of protective styling and beauty within our history. We have to make sure we do not offend either the higher-ups, customers, or clients.
Those in leadership positions play a large part in making the environment of any establishment cohesive for everyone inside of it. As a Black woman entering a work place, I have to watch how I speak, how I stand, and how I respond (especially because the biggest stereotype of Black women is that we are loud and that we have attitude that hinders our ability to showcase our passion, thoughts, and skills. The hardest part is not being able to address issues and concerns you have without being labeled as problematic.
Imagine having to shorten your name to appease others, make sure your natural hair is not showing because it might break company policy, or speak differently to be accepted all before you walk into work. How exhausting would that be?
Please – if you are in a position of leadership, stand up for those in your environment and lead the way so that people after you understand the world we live in – not just where they work.”