It’s no secret that UF is a predominately white institution. Although not a proven fact, I suspect that the average UF student is a white sorority girl with a sticker of Barack Obama wearing a Gator shirt on her laptop.
White people make up 56.62% of students, whereas the Black population is 6.97%. The latter statistic becomes even starker when compared to Alachua’s total Black population of 20.6%.
Although UF has made efforts to support minorities through student groups like the Asian American Student Union and the Black Student Union, these students will never experience what it feels like to be part of a white majority.
As a white person, I’ve wished to extend my support, but I’ve felt lost on the “how.” After all, I’ve never been the only person of my race in a classroom. I’ve never had to deal with racist roommates. I’ve never heard doubts about my career choices. I can never understand.
However, even though I can’t change the circumstances of my race and its privileges, I can choose to educate myself on what minorities experience. So, how does a white girl with a laptop educate herself during Black History Month?
According to African American History, this month is about, “paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.” We can “pay tribute” by learning about historical figures and their contributions to the country we live in. This can be done through reading biographies of people like James Baldwin and Katherine Dunham.
Black History Month is also an opportunity to look introspectively at ourselves and our efforts towards the Black community. As white people, have we done enough as allies?
Well, that depends. What does being an ally mean? The easy answer: it’s more than posting a picture of a black square on Instagram. Being an ally means going beyond a supportive friendship and becoming an accomplice (as my friend Joe puts it) in the fight against racism because now, the fight is our own.
Education is the primary foundation of allyship. As white people do not experience racism, it is our job to learn about it (knowing that racism exists doesn’t cut it). A part of that learning is recognizing areas where we’ve been favored because of the color of our skin.
For example, in my internships, I’ve never had to change the way I speak or represent an entire race on my behalf. I get to blend into the corporate world. Educating myself on how my privileges revealed themselves at my internship fostered my understanding of the importance of uplifting the opinions of my minority co-workers, especially in front of leadership.
Active, continuous learning is a key ingredient in meaningful allyship. Education can come from literature (check out Dismantle Collective), documentaries or even from the Black History Month section on TikTok.
Another important aspect of allyship is not making it about ourselves. Within the past year, demonstrative anti-racism was a popular trend on social media. While the intentions behind sharing a photo on an Instagram story might look good, the results do not. The purpose of being an ally is not so your liberal friends approve of you. Black History Month celebrates real change, so honor it by making a real effort.
I will be the first to admit that I haven’t done enough as an ally. I grew up in Canada, where I was surrounded by diversity but very few Black people. However, the best part of allyship is that it forgives ignorance in exchange for doing better. Doing better means stepping out of that comfortable privilege bubble we grew up in and having those confrontational conversations. With conscious effort, we’ll learn how to be better allies during Black History Month and every month after it.
Also, to gain a better understanding of allied actions, you can use this checklist for White Allies Against Racism.