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How to Support Oppressed Communities When You Are Not a Member

Daily demonstrations, marches, and protests have continued over the last several weeks after the killing of George Floyd. There has been an unprecedented public outcry not only against police brutality, but also against the many ways systemic racism is deeply embedded in our country and others. All of us here at De Novo HRC have been trained to be advocates for inclusion and diversity. It is past time for us to do more.

The recent demonstrations have brought people together from all backgrounds. However, if you are not a member of an oppressed group, your participation can sometimes be viewed as “virtue signaling,” “performance activism” or “slacktivism” even if unintentional. It is up to us to be sure that our support is authentic, consistent, and effective so that we become part of the change that is desperately needed. For those who are not a member of a group being marginalized and oppressed, consider how the options below may help you position yourself as an ally.

  • Get involved: There is an unattributed quote that states “not being racist isn’t good enough.” Take the opportunity to use your voice to help spread and amplify the voices of people who are marginalized by participating in rallies and marches. Become a member of online communities with like-minded people who share updates and schedules for upcoming events. Getting involved also means identifying and calling out racist speech and behaviors from others – and helping to put a stop to it.

  • Listen and educate yourself: Actively listen to people who are members of the BIPOC community and who are directly affected by oppression. This requires a willingness to accept that what they are saying is their authentic experience. We should not expect to be taught how to be an effective ally; instead, take the initiative and research the history of prejudice and discrimination in the US, and throughout the world, to become more knowledgeable about the causes of this problem and determine what role you can play in fixing it.

  • Become comfortable with being uncomfortable: Not only should we listen to the voices of the oppressed regarding their experiences, but we should listen to criticism about our own actions. This is a time for self-reflection and confronting our own biases. Many people are proud to say that they don’t see color, but that’s simply untrue. It’s okay to see color and to acknowledge and celebrate our differences. It is not okay, however, to hate or discriminate against someone because of those differences. It can be uncomfortable to discover the ways that we may be participating in oppressive systems, but this is work that must be done by each of us.

  • Stay engaged: Eventually, the frequency of rallies and marches may taper off and some may have the luxury of retreating into a life largely free of the effects of discrimination. We need to ask ourselves, “How do I remain engaged?” The answer may be different for each of us. Some may continue to donate money, some may remain active in organizations that fight injustice, and yet others may become more involved in local politics, speaking up against policies that perpetuate institutional prejudice. Be deliberate in finding meaningful ways to maintain your engagement.

The killing of George Floyd was not the first incident of its kind, but the response has been widespread and long-lasting. This is a moment that should not be lost. Monica Siciliano, Partner at De Novo HRC, reflected upon marches she has attended and shared that she felt “encouraged by the sense of the ‘collective we’.” Make yourself part of the “we” if you have not already.

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