As uprisings in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd continue around the world, many businesses, organizations, and ethnic and faith-based groups have used their platform to condemn Floyd’s killing and the widespread police violence in the U.S., call for peaceful demonstrations, and express solidarity with the Black community. These displays have generally come in the form of social media posts and official press releases.
In response, Black organizers are making it clear that even though they appreciate and welcome the support, they aren’t looking for publicized reactions—they need sustainable action.
“We’ve heard it all before,” said Marc Banks, national press secretary for the NAACP. “If there had been any action put behind these statements of solidarity, we might not be witnessing the vitriolic response happening in the streets right now. The statements mean little at this point. We need to see action on behalf of our allies and those in decision-making roles to shift the paradigm of society on a global scale.”
Though Black organizers acknowledge public statements as a show of goodwill, many are looking for tangible evidence that allies mean what they say. That means following up with political, social, and economic action. Making a concerted effort to engage with the Black community is the place to start.
“It is not enough to say, ‘I’m not a racist, or I’m not biased,’ especially if your actions prove otherwise,” said Banks. “Far too long, the Black community has heard lip service from allies and those that claim to have our best interest in mind.”
Black organizers say that any statement put forth by companies or organizations that don’t follow up with immediate action can be interpreted as hollow, disingenuous, and performative.
“A lot of times, people want to be on the right side of history and want to be visible, and it’s hard to tell who’s sincere and who isn’t,” said Tanya Faison, the founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento.
Public displays of solidarity have been effective during times like the Civil Rights Movement, when people from different genders, backgrounds, and ethnicities came together to protest for basic rights for Black and brown Americans. But now, with the convenience of the internet, critics say it’s easier for people to become “armchair activists” who try to portray themselves as being involved without actually putting effort into the cause.
“Historically, we’ve had a handful of allies that work with us and we should always welcome them,” said Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP. Brown said that although other communities have considered themselves allies to the Black community, many haven’t historically stood alongside the Black community on important issues such as affirmative action. “There are some elements of other communities that have been with us since the very beginning, but we haven’t had an army of white people who have worked with us,” he said.
Solidarity and public statements of support can still be impactful, but if allies really want to make a difference, organizers say they should do more to mobilize friends and family to vote racist politicians out of office in November, familiarize themselves of the demands of Black Lives Matter activists, and reach out to the Black community to ask what they can do to help.
“Racism isn’t a problem that Black folks created, and it won’t be a problem that Black folks fix,” Faison said. “True solidarity and true allyship is so necessary right now. A lot of times we’re not heard and we’re not taken seriously, and that’s why we’re at the point we’re at right now. Allies need to use their privilege to make things happen.”