Real allies don’t just perform

Cal in Color

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Being a Black student in the UC system, I was surprised to walk through campus on my first day of class and be met with two police officers glaring in my direction as I walked across Sproul Plaza. I quickly looked the other way as I tried not to noticeably pick up my pace, rushing past the row of police cars sitting on Barrow Lane to make it to the safety of Dwinelle Hall. That experience encapsulates the reality of Black Americans everywhere.

After reflecting for the past few days about everything that is happening, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been painful. I’ve been switching back and forth between social media and news coverage of protests for the last two days, and to say that I’m OK would be a lie. 

I will never tire of speaking about my Blackness, how it’s perceived in the United States and the injustices Black Americans endure, but I won’t sit here and pretend it’s been easy to structure my thoughts more cohesively lately. I cannot look at a screen without seeing a Black body brutalized, without some newscaster reducing the protests to “unnecessary violence” or without reading rhetoric that attempts to dismantle the movement.

After days of horrifying images on the news and social media, my mental health is constantly challenged and the paralysis has set in. This has been the reality in my life for as long as I can remember, and it’s relentless and overwhelming.

The immense support for the movement online has, however, been refreshing. Living in the age of social media, the art of protesting has taken many forms: You can use the platform you are given to spread awareness to your family and friends, and even thousands of people at a time. Many have taken to popular sites such as Instagram and Twitter to post different information about where you can donate, what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for and what you can do to help.

Social media has incredible power, and many have recognized it as a strategic tool in the fight for revolution. It is, however, notorious for the way information comes in waves and dies as soon as it’s arrived. The fight for Black life should not merely be fashionable when everyone posts about it on Instagram; it should be something we remember after privileged masses get tired of seeing it on their timelines.

In the words of a prominent Ferguson activist, “The struggle for justice is not a fad, it is not a fashion. It is a way of life and you have to be faithful until death. It ain’t nothing to play with.”

Justice is more than one day’s trending Instagram post. Without the proper organization, movements die as suddenly as they’re born. There’s no question that life will never be the way it was before, and we need to make sure that we aren’t either

We, as Black people, and our allies need to make sure that what’s happening, the Black Lives Matter movement, doesn’t stay in the hashtag section of Twitter, but that it moves beyond what today’s mainstream media deems “fashionable.” There are Black folk on the ground every day, right now, in protests, organizing and fighting for equality, who need support offline where it truly counts. That reality often gets swept under the facile sensuality of false allyship.

Social and news media often facilitate the performance of allyship: White supremacy often disguises itself as a friend to the movement. And too often, those with privilege publicly and loudly profess their support for the movement and claim to take action — but never do. Instead, they perpetuate a system they claim to oppose. 

Performative allyship is more harmful than many realize, and is also performed by many non-Black people of color. For this moment to build momentum and structurally change the world we live in, everyone — including non-Black people of color — needs to check what privileges they have and wield them constructively. This rhetoric of preformative allyship lives on exponentially within the digital and increasingly visual modern age, and for true allies, there has to be more action than the mere posting of a blacked-out square.

Being an ally means showing up when it counts. It means uplifting Black voices rather than trying to drown them out for the sake of appearing “woke.” It means buying from Black businesses, donating to Black causes and voting for laws that ensure the rights of Black people. Allies make space for marginalized communities where they have been historically rejected.

And to my fellow Black people or anyone hurting from the graphic videos, images and words being posted everywhere, please note that effective activism requires self-care. Please make sure to take a break from social media outlets when it becomes overwhelming.

Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others were real people, with real loved ones, who deserve more than animated murals that last 24 hours on a random timeline — they need structural, institutional change to have a chance at justice. Not only for themselves, but also for the future of Black lives everywhere.

Savon Bardell writes the Friday column on the experience of being a Black student at UC Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected]