An Artist, Educator, Author and Dean Reflect on What It Means to Be an Ally

"Perfection is not a prerequisite to participation"

People joining marches across the country have been demanding police reforms in response to the repeated killings of unarmed Black men and women, in a reckoning that has also prompted calls for confronting racial inequality across many aspects of American life.

Advocates say being a supporter for change can take on many forms — participating in those protests, amplifying Black voices on your social media, donating your time and money to organizations fighting racism, supporting Black-owned businesses and voting.

Here are more ideas for how to be an ally to the Black community that come from newly minted activists on social media and from long-time advocates, who have been fighting to dismantle the school to prison pipeline for Black children, for example, or to make academia a more welcome place.

Danielle Coke, @ohhappydani on Instagram, is in that first group of new activists. She posted an illustration for her friends on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, about King’s work, challenging the notion that he was "a gentle passive peacekeeper" by saying he was "a radical and rejected inaction and fought for justice through organized civil disobedience."

“And I noticed that a lot of my friends and family were sharing it and their friends were sharing it so I said, ‘Oh, how cool. I think this could be a really great opportunity to talk about harder topics and have people be more willing to listen to them if they were pretty.’"

Coke now boasts nearly half a million followers on Instagram.

Listen to POC

As Americans began demonstrating, many more people were finding her quickly on Instagram, and she felt she should encourage them to go beyond sharing her art to take action.

“And so that’s kind of how I fell into the educating piece of it,” she said. “And I definitely agree with the fact that it is difficult and no Black person should feel obligated to take on this work. But because of the impact and power that I’ve seen my art have, I chose to take it a step further and encourage people to go past sharing it and to also do something about it.”

Coke urges anyone who wants to participate to jump into the conversation.

Perfection is not a prerequisite to participation. You don’t always have to have the perfect words to speak out and say something.

Danielle Coke

"You will get it wrong at some point but I think everyone should play a part in dismantling systemic racism and helping us all move forward."

Diversify Your Life

"What does my inner circle of friends look like? Do I have different perspectives?" Coke asked. Who are the leaders that you learn from? Who are you following on social media? Are you able to interact with viewpoints that look different than your own viewpoint?

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Allies, it’s time to take inventory: how does diversity play out in your day-to-day? 🤔 ⠀⠀ Hear me when I say this: perfection is NOT a prerequisite to participation. You can actively work on diversity in your daily life AND use your voice against injustice at the same time. Allyship is a journey, so don’t feel pressured to get it all right immediately! 💚 ⠀⠀ Now, let’s break this down: ⠀⠀ 👩🏽‍🤝‍👨🏻 FRIENDSHIPS: It’s so important to do life with people who don’t look like you. The varying perspectives that you’ll be exposed to will challenge you to look at life differently & draw you out of your comfort zone. ⠀⠀ 📚 LEADERS: Okay, so... do you follow mostly white influencers, authors, speakers, etc? I want to challenge you here. The more that POC are viewed as credible resources, the more visibility we’ll be given – which will increase representation across the board in a myriad of ways!! You’ll also be able to learn from life experiences that don’t mirror yours. ⠀⠀ 💒 PLACES OF WORSHIP: (speaking from a Christian viewpoint here) Majority-POC churches arose as a direct result of minorities not being welcomed in most churches throughout history. Majority-white churches: I challenge you to call in your leaders and discuss ways to increase diversity in your congregations AND leadership! Let’s mirror Heaven here on Earth. ⠀⠀ 💋 STANDARDS OF BEAUTY: How do you define beauty in general? Do minorities often fit that standard? Explore your mindset in this area and make sure that your preferences aren’t rooted in prejudice. ⠀⠀ 👸🏾 TOYS: Is Princess Tiana the only brown-skinned princess your kids know about? Do you provide multi-ethnic toys and action figures? Inclusivity can be shaped early-on, and I encourage you to explore this with your family. ⠀⠀ 🏫 BUSINESS: Supporting minority-owned businesses can help to create jobs, uplift communities, and strengthen local economies weakened by systemic oppression. Do ya need anymore reasons? 🤩 ⠀⠀ Whew, hope that helped as a starting point. Comment other areas to consider below!

A post shared by DANIELLE COKE (@ohhappydani) on

Anti-racism resources for white people has been a widely circulated Google doc compiled by filmmaker Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein, a writer, with resources for white parents to raise anti-racist children, articles to read, videos to watch, podcasts to subscribe to, books to read, organizations to follow on social media and more anti-racism resources to help you actively diversify your life.

To teach your children to embrace a diverse world, with friendships across races and ethnicities and respect for cultures different from your own, start maybe with toys. Use them to paint a picture of a more inclusive world, Coke says.

Afro-Latinos at a Black Lives Matter protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, spoke out about the racism they’ve experienced, and about what white Latinos can do to be better allies.

“Are they playing with all only white dolls and then when they go out into the real world, equating that to their standard of beauty,” she asked. “I think that a lot of the work that we do starts at home.”

Here is a non-exhaustive list of children's books with Black protagonists by Black authors:

"Not So Different" by Cyana Riley

Educate Yourself

J. Luke Wood, an associate vice president for faculty diversity and inclusion and a professor of education at San Diego State University, is the author of “Black Minds Matter: Realizing the Brilliance, Dignity, and Morality of Black Males in Education." The Black Lives Matter movement is intertwined with the mistreatment of Black children by the education system, he said. If you don’t value the life, you certainly won’t value the mind, he said.

Black children are more often placed in special education classes, less frequently given access to gifted and talented programs and disciplined more harshly, he said.

"Institutions that have annual suspension rates of students that are more than 2 times their state average should be investigated," he said.

If that’s something you’re worried about in your schools, you could ask to see that data from your district or from the state education department and push for change. 

Wood will be part of two webinars coming up over the summer.

The first is “Addressing Anti-Blackness on Campus: Implications for Educators and Institutions” on June 24. You can register here.

The second is a five-part series, “Black Minds Matter,” that looks at the realities of Black students in education by drawing parallels between the policing of Black lives and the schooling of Black minds. The course will balance a discussion of the issues facing Black students and strategies for improving their success.

It is free to the public and begins July 16. You can register here.

Wood’s book was included on a list compiled by Adriel Hilton, dean of students and diversity officer at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

The list:

He said he looked for books that would help white people understand the experiences and reality of Black people, written by Black authors. They address police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison industrial complex.

White people have a responsibility to learn.

Adriel Hilton
April Baker-Bell, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, explains that Black students are subjected to “linguistic racism” by a education system that holds up white, middle class language as the “gold standard” and looks down at Black speech as inferior.

Brittany Lee Lewis, an activist and former Miss Black America, teaches a class called The Black Woman from the Colonial era to the present, at Wilmington University in Delaware. A doctoral candidate at The George Washington University focusing on Black feminism and 20th-century American history, she says she would tell people first and foremost to read about Black leaders.

"Read books and speeches delivered by historical Black activists. I've seen so many people trying to tell the Black community, 'Martin Luther King Jr. would be so upset with you right now.' What's interesting is people don't actually know anything about Martin Luther King outside of a misquoted and sedated version of his 'I Have a Dream' speech."

"Literally right before he died he was striking with sanitation workers in Memphis. But people don't know or talk about that history because they don't actually study or read him. They misquote him. So I say read the words and speeches of Martin Luther King. Read the words and speeches of Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvy, Frederick Douglas. Learn about the history that we've been fighting about for centuries."

Take Action and Donate If You Can

Lewis says once people have read and educated themselves, they can then begin to take action in other ways.

If you feel comfortable attending a protest despite the threat of the coronavirus, read through these tips on what to bring, what not to bring, what to do about tear gas and other useful advice.

If you're able to donate money, there are many organizations such as Be the Bridge, dedicated to racial healing, equity and reconciliation and the Movement for Black Lives. To donate to a bail fund, jail support fund, memorial fund or mutual aid fund, see a list compiled here.

If you're short on funds but want to donate your time, participate in letter writing, sign a petition, contact your government officials about seeking justice.

Lewis also says you should take action in your day to day life.

"If you have family members or friends that are making racist jokes or problematic comments, don't let it go by. Address it. Check them. Educate them. Talk to them. If you work in a space where your company has put up a black box and hashtag Black Lives Matter but you personally witness all types of micro and macro aggressions that Black employees experience or you know for a fact that your Black and brown colleagues have expressed those issues and they're still not being addressed, don't sleep on it."

Use your white privilege to say 'This is not okay and I'm not going to stand around and let it happen just because it's not happening to me.'

Brittany Lewis
SURJ, Showing Up for Racial Justice, has an essential message for the white community.

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