Black History Month is a time for recognizing the pivotal role that Black people have played in U.S. history. It is about celebrating the strength, courage and resilience of Black people living in a country built on oppression.
Black History Month is also a perfect opportunity for reflection. Although the U.S. has come a long way in eliminating racism, it still exists, and it is the job of non-Black people to ask themselves how they can do better.
Lauryn Givens, a junior from Macomb, is the historian of Albion College’s Black Student Alliance (BSA). Givens said that the first step to being a good ally is getting involved.
“From a student’s point of view, being at a predominately white campus, I feel as though the key to being an ally to the Black community could be, you know, just attending different organizations across campus that focus on those key ethnic and cultural perspectives,” said Givens.
Being an active ally can take many different forms, such as joining and supporting diversity awareness groups, participating in protests and spreading awareness on social media.
“Social media helps a lot,” said Alex Butler, a senior from Chicago and the treasurer of the BSA.
Givens said she encourages allies to become as knowledgeable as possible on the topic of racism and to use that knowledge to speak up against injustice.
“The voice is the most powerful thing,” said Givens.
Given the power that voices have, the vocabulary that non-Black people use is crucial. When discussing a topic as serious as racism, it matters more than ever to have the right words.
“I know there are so many people who are kindhearted out there who want to be allies, but they just don’t know how to phrase certain stuff, so it comes out wrong,” said Givens.
As a solution to this problem, Givens suggested that non-Black people do research and ask for help. If a non-Black person is unsure, it never hurts to read an article written by a Black author or consult an informed and trustworthy peer.
Butler pointed out that allies should be conscious of when to stop talking and start listening.
“Being, I guess you could say, sensitive to not understanding and knowing that you might not understand,” said Butler.
Givens made a similar point. Having empathy is always a wonderful thing, but there is a correct way to go about it. It is important for allies to realize they will never understand racism in its entirety because they will never experience it firsthand.
“One thing that tends to bother us, as in the Black community, is when people say ‘I understand,’ or ‘I feel your pain.’ I feel like in order for you to be an ally, just say, ‘I see where you’re coming from,’ you know? Or, ‘How are we here to help you?’” said Givens. “It’s like if my friend’s father passed away, but my father never passed away, and I’m over here saying to her, ‘I understand how you feel. I know. I’ve been there.’ But I haven’t.”
Tadaro Riley, a sophomore from Chicago, said that accountability is the most essential part of allyship. College is a place to learn and grow, so everyone is bound to make mistakes, but good allies will take responsibility when they say or do something wrong.
“You need to condemn yourself for being racist,” said Riley. “Understand that you’re not a racist, but that all non-Black people have been conditioned to have racist qualities. Everybody should acknowledge that and check that.”