The words “ally” and “allyship” have become trendy again since the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA in May, 2020. That tragic event has sparked recycled conversations about racial inequality, unconscious bias, discrimination and injustices against Black people. In this article, we specifically explore what it means to be an ally.

 

Our social media DMs have been flooded this past week with messages and questions from non-Black friends and colleagues. The messages have mostly expressed solidarity with the current global focus on the Black Lives Matter movement while the questions have come from people who are genuinely interested in being a part of the solution.

This blog post was inspired by one of those questions. To everyone who has reached out, we say thank you. We hope that your curiosity and energy carries on beyond being the ‘flavour of the month’. 

We (Black people) need allies and we need them for the long haul. Click To Tweet
More protesters sitting on the road with "Hands Up! Don't Shoot" posture | London Black Lives Matter Rally
Black Lives Matter Rally, London, 2016


What exactly does it mean to be an ally to Black people?

Before sharing a personal story, we will try to address this question directly. Please note that we do not speak for the entire Black race. To do so would be foolhardy. We make no claims to be representatives of what is clearly NOT a monolithic entity.

So what exactly is an ally in this context?

There is no ONE blanket answer. However, we offer some perspective as follows:

POINT #1

It means being AWARE and ACCEPTING that your Black friends, co-workers, and neighbours often have a unique lived experience in predominantly white or other non-Black societies that may be different from yours. Some have described this as recognising your privilege.

POINT #2

It means LISTENING and not leading with defensiveness or dismissiveness when confronted with the (often uncomfortable) truths about the lived experiences referred to earlier. 

POINT #3

Listening should hopefully lead to UNDERSTANDING which should increase your SENSITIVITY in situations where your Black family, friends, collaborators and co-workers may be treated differently from you (if you’re of a different race); and

POINT #4

Finally, it means CHECKING IN and being an ADVOCATE for the Black people in your life. It means ACTIVELY standing up (in your own way, using your own voice, authority, influence and platforms) to people, systems and structures that ignore them, display bias or outright prejudice and are institutionally designed to treat them differently.

Black family attending Black Lives Matter Rally in London | Be An Ally to Black People
Black family during BLM rally in London

So you want to be an ally to Black people? This will look different for everyone and will take many forms.

Just know that you will find your moment to prove your allyship. And in that moment, we hope that you rise to the occasion by doing at least one of the things we mention above.


What being an ally looks like in real life

Once upon a recent time, I was briefly detained by immigration officials while travelling on a press trip with journalists from the UK.

Here’s what happened… (names and other identifying data have been redacted)

Our group arrived in this country and breezed through passport control without any incident. Our luggage was waiting for us when we were done and so we proceeded to exit the airport. 

Whilst exiting the controlled area (as a group) to meet with our taxi pick up, I heard some loud shouting behind me. The words were instructing someone in the vicinity to stop. 

Casually, and out of curiosity, I turned back to look and lo and behold, I was the one being addressed.

I complied and stopped, luggage in hand, slightly amused and slightly concerned. Meanwhile, my group – all-White women carried on walking, leaving me behind.

I’ve been in situations like these before with immigration officials and I know that composure is EVERYTHING. In those circumstances, I instinctively switch on what I call my “Overcompensation Mode”… the one where I smile a bit more, slow down some movements and exaggerate others so as to appear as unthreatening as possible.

Three men came up to me and surrounded me. 

Black and White sign reading names of US victims of Police Brutality - Am I Next? Black Lives Matter London Rally
Images captured at BLM rally, London

The one who I assume was their supervisor came close and began asking me all kinds of questions. 

“Can I see your passport?” he asked. Calmly, I handed him my passport.

“Where have you travelled from?” he queried.

“Why are you here?” he continued. “I’m here on a press trip with my group”, I replied. (Remember, my group had left me behind so I could have been lying for all he knew).

“Where are you going?” he continued. I recited the name of the hotel we were staying at.

“How long are you in the country for?” I stated the duration of my trip.

And so it continued.

Now, someone is reading this and thinking, “Surely, these are routine questions anyone would get asked by immigration.” Please refer to POINT #1 above.

Black man holding up protest sign reading: You May Kill Me With Your Hatefulness But Still, Like Air, I Rise
Images captured at BLM rally, London

I had already answered some of these questions at passport control and had been deemed worthy enough to receive an entry stamp. Therefore to be asked these questions AGAIN only confirmed one thing to me…

They had profiled me thus: White women = safe, Black man = suspicious.

If you think I’m making much ado about nothing, may I refer you to POINT #3 above?

As the questioning carried on, I was clearly delaying my group, but here’s the kicker…NOT ONE OF THEM came back to look for me OR ask what was going on.


Privilege could have become allyship

Now, I am travel-savvy enough to know that White people get bothered too in some countries, however, with 15 years of travel experience both on a Nigerian (a whole other story) and a British passport, I know how disproportionately this happens to me.

In this example, that thing called “White Privilege” could have turned to “allyship” at that moment. I could have benefited from someone coming back to find me and to explain that I was with the group. 

That’s what being an ally looked like in that situation. I refer you to POINT #4 above.

Protesters sitting on the road with "Hands Up! Don't Shoot" posture | London Black Lives Matter Rally
London

Probably satisfied that I was one of the “good Black ones”, the immigration officials let me go. 

Embarrassed and slightly flustered, I re-joined my group. No one asked me what happened. I was the one who offered up an explanation to say I was detained for further questioning, almost apologising for causing a delay that wasn’t my fault. There was a half-hearted response from the group but no one made a real effort to engage.

I almost hear someone thinking while reading this, “Oh just get over yourself already!” “Everyone faces some type of discrimination anyway, what makes you special?” May I politely refer you POINT #2 above?

Be An Ally to Black People
Images captured at BLM rally, London

As we rode in the taxi to our hotel, through endless plantations and surrounded by beautiful rolling hills, the group carried on chatting. I composed myself, switched on my “happy face” and quietly filed my experience away in my “life happens box” while trying to join the conversation.

I wasn’t asking for sympathy. I simply needed an ally.


Who defines what allyship means?

Who sets the criteria for what it means to be an ally to Black people?

I’m not entirely sure about the answer to this.

The increased desire from White people and brands to find ways to support “the cause” is perhaps a reason why this topic of being an ally is receiving more attention than usual. 

White protester holding up sign captioned: White Silence = White Consent | Black Lives Matter protest, London | Be An Ally to Black People
London

But for us, this is nothing new. In our personal networks and business interactions, we always try to educate our non-Black friends and colleagues and the brands that hire us so that when they KNOW better, they can BE better and DO better for us as Black people living in predominantly White or multi-racial societies.

We (Black people) have been speaking out for YEARS. 

I do not think there is any such thing as a general consensus about how to be an ally to Black people or who defines the criteria for being one. 

For anyone asking though, the four principles I mentioned earlier would be a good place to begin.

Young Women holding up Black Lives Matter signs at London Rally | Be An Ally to Black People
London
When you KNOW better, you can BE better and DO better when supporting causes that end systematic discrimination and check unconscious bias. Educating yourself is important. Click To Tweet


Note to our regular readers

To say that 2020 has been a very strange year for the entire planet is putting things mildly. If recent events are any indicator, then 2020 shows no sign of changing its unpredictable nature. 

Therefore, our focus on food, travel and lifestyle content on this blog may take a temporary back seat as our focus shifts towards more topical issues. 

We will continue bringing you our usual vibrant content but we ask that our regular readers excuse us as we ‘dip our toes into’ atypical and sometimes more personal subject areas such as this one.


Catch up on So You Want To Be An Ally on IGTV

We hosted this event on what it means to be an ally to Black people on IG Live in June 2020. Please watch and share.


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So You Want To Be An Ally to Black People? Let's Talk About It
Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).