As buildings, cars, and hearts catch fire, you might be asking yourself “what can I do?” There are protests, of course, fundraising campaigns, and so many other ways to show support for George Floyd, or the broader Black Lives Matter movement. And yet, I’ve seen well-intentioned would-be advocates and allies frozen in inaction, either because they don’t know how to react, or worse, they don’t think it’s their place to do so openly. Personally, I really think you should.
Why you should speak up:
Your voice counts, and your voice matters. One reason would-be advocates pause in hesitation is the concern that their voice is not the best voice for delivering a message about inequality, or that they might not have the best words for expressing support. I hear you, but your voice still counts, and it still matters.
Your voice matters because it might have more impact than you know, either on someone in your life that’s still shaping their narrative, or someone that needs to feel heard and supported right now. Your voice also matters because our collective voices, however insignificant they may seem individually, carry enormous weight together. So many of the positions of power essential to enacting lasting change are held within the white majority, so the dialogue needs to be heard, internalized, and engaged with outside of the minority groups most affected. We need to normalize more open conversations about race inequality.
Your voice also matters because the specifics of how best to enact change have been divisive. As the media spotlight focuses on reporting escalating chaos around the country, there is a greater need than ever to draw attention back to the underlying pain, frustration, and inequality that brought our nation to its current state. If we want to see things get better, we’ll need to drive the national attention and focus back to the cause of the problem. To address the root cause of inequality, our people in positions of power will need to change what they do. To change what they do, they’ll need to change what they think. To change what they think, they’ll need to engage in the dialogue of race inequality. That change begins with each of us.
How you can speak up:
Start with your principles. If you believe black life matters every bit as much as any other life, you have something positive to contribute to the narrative. You can build from this point if you’re prepared to do so, or otherwise further deepen your understanding over time. Right now, if at a minimum you support a level of equality that you don’t see present today, I encourage you to call attention to that.
As an advocate and an ally, I encourage you to use your voice to raise the volume on the message of so many others. When doing so, however, maintain a sense of humility and acknowledge the limitations of a perspective learned and not lived if this has not been your direct struggle. As anyone who stands for equality, I would encourage you to absolutely stand in solidarity, and would simply remind you to be conscious about standing alongside, and not in front of your most directly affected peers. Look to support and amplify their message, be careful not to claim it. Be aware of the life-long struggle, and multi-generational push that has come for so many in carrying this message. And, perhaps most importantly, in speaking out be sure to also take the time to listen and to learn.
A sample narrative:
I’ve provided a sample narrative for reference based on my own perspective and level of comfort engaging on this topic in a social media post. If you find this helpful, I invite you to borrow or adapt my narrative to fit your own, keeping in mind that there are so many ways beyond social media to lend your voice to this cause:
“For those affected by everything going on these days, I’m here for you if you’re needing someone.
Recently I’ve seen people angry, heartbroken, and divided on where to direct their emotions. Faced with the limitations of my own experiences in trying to make sense of everything, I’ve tried my best to listen.
What I’ve heard lately echoes a decades-long narrative. Signs of pain and frustration, and understandably anger, in communities systematically treated as if their lives are worthless. It’s important for me to stand in solidarity and let anyone who needs to hear this know that I hear them, and I believe that black lives absolutely matter as much as any other.
While I believe that all lives matter, police and otherwise, I call out black lives specifically here because so many recent and long-past events in our country have systematically rejected the notion that black lives are equal to all others. In lending an amplifying voice in support of so many others carrying this message, I hope to shine a brighter spotlight on an issue that demands the attention and action of those in power, and those in the majority, to reach a lasting resolution. I also hope that those most directly affected will know that I support equality and that I stand with them.
For anyone that feels differently, if you would like to share your own views with me, I want to listen and I want to understand the way that you feel too.”
Why I’ve chosen to speak up here:
I will never experience being black in America, I’m Hispanic and light-skinned. As a former leader in UC Berkeley’s Consortium, an organization focused on improving the representation of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans in the business community, I had the privilege of hearing multiple first-hand accounts of how important advocacy and allyship is in supporting this cause specifically, just as it is critical to so many other minority-led causes. I’ve also just tried my best to listen, and in doing so found signs of people disappointed by their friends’ inaction, and well-intentioned friends are frozen in hesitation, questioning their place in all of this. While these personal experiences are by definition anecdotal, and in no way representative of the diverse perspectives around my stance, it’s my view that the risks are asymmetric: to me, the potential harm of inaction far outweighs the downside of well-intentioned support; not only because of the potential impact of silence on the broader movement, but also because of the more direct impact that silence might have on anyone that counted on their friends for support. As a final point for reflection, I hope these words from Dr. Martin Luther King might further inspire a bias towards action:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Previously published on “Equality Includes You”, a Medium publication.
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