Want To Be A Better Ally? Educating Yourself is the First Step

“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” These were George Floyd’s last words, words that have circulated throughout our timelines over the past few weeks. It’s been a heavy and somber time regarding the Black Lives Matter movement as we the people are taking matters into our own hands after the police system has failed Black Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement has created a space for an honest discussion about the status of race in America for everyone. Protests have erupted all over the country, including in my hometown of El Paso, Texas, where less than 4 percent of the population is Black and is composed of mostly Mexican-Americans. 

Because of the community I grew up in, I had relatively no prior exposure to the Black community, nor had I witnessed their struggles firsthand before arriving at USC. I barely even knew anything about Afro-Latinxs, as most of my contact with Latin America has been through Mexico, where only 1.2 percent of the population is Black. For the first time in my life, I was having long overdue conversations about racism with my Black friends, listening to their struggles, and creating a stronger understanding of how to support the Black community - especially at USC, a predominantly white institution. When I moved to Los Angeles to attend  USC, I witnessed the racism Latinx people face - something I had heard through the media but had never experienced myself. Moving also made me realize my privilege, because as a White Latinx I don’t experience nearly the same amount of discrimination as both my Afro-Latinx and Black friends. This realization was reinforced when I took Professor Alaina Morgan’s Race in America class my second semester at USC. 

Sitting in Professor Alaina Morgan’s Race in America course, I finally began to understand the systematic racism that Black people face in the United States. Professor Morgan began the course by asking us what we thought race was and how it affects our society. This started a long-winded discussion about how people of different races are treated and the oppression that people of color face. But the lesson that resonated with me the most was on the second day of class when we learned that race is not necessarily a biological construct, but rather a social one. Yet regardless of being a construct, race still needs to be acknowledged to understand the role that it plays in our everyday lives. Throughout the course, I learned that racism against Black people is much more complex than what we are taught in primary and secondary school. While both slavery and segregation are a huge part of the story surrounding Black oppression, there is much more that goes unrecognized in most classrooms. There is the dark history of laws designed to keep Black people from voting, the South’s implementation of lynching as a form of entertainment for white people, and housing discrimination. These barriers are only the beginning of a deeply rooted system meant to undermine Black Americans. 

Ultimately, what put everything in perspective for me while taking this course was the article “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.” In this article (one I highly recommend), Coates outlines the history of racism that Black people have faced in the United States and utilizes this history to make a case for reparations for Black Americans. He makes the argument that interned Asian-Americans and Native Americans have gained reparations for the injustices white Americans bestowed upon them, yet Black people have not. Coates sheds light on the discrimination that Black people have faced post-abolition. These included the injustices that are not taught in the American public school system. Injustices such as unofficial segregation, mass incarceration, and the ways in which the northern United States  - while seen as more progressive than the South - has still been historically racist towards Black Americans. 

The most important way for those who are not Black to become better allies is to educate ourselves, whether that be through reading novels about Black history, articles about systematic racism, or watching television shows and movies that follow a non-white narrative, such as Dear White People. Those of us who are not Black will never be able to completely understand the experience of being Black in America, but we can put ourselves in others shoes and recognize our privilege. I am privileged to have the opportunity to attend USC and gain exposure to a course that would not have existed fifty or even just twenty years ago. I commend USC for offering a course that educates students on racial history, and believe these types of courses should be required in every university to allow students to understand our country’s history of racism and oppression. While we may not all have the opportunity to take a class on race, everyone who is not Black should take the time to become more educated on Black history, systematic racism, and a need for legal reform. Here are some great places to start educating yourself on Black history and what it means to be Black in America. 

Podcasts 

- Code Switch by NPR 

- Waiting on Reperations by iHeart Radio

- Higher Learning with Van Lathan and Rachel Lindsay by the Ringer

- About Race with Reni Eddo Lodge by Reni Eddo-Lodge/Renay Rich

- Justice in America by the Appeal

Books 

- Beloved by Toni Morrison

- Between the World and Me be Ta-Nehisi Coates

- How to be an Antiracist by Ibrham X. Kendi

- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

- Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis 

Television Shows/Movies

- Dear White People

- The Hate U Give

- When They See Us

- Insecure

- 13th 

Utilizing these resources is a small step into the world of educating ourselves and becoming allies in order to understand the oppression that Black people face everyday. We must continue reading, listening, and engaging in conversations about racism and pushing for reform. Many cannot attend protests at this time because of the current health crisis or other personal issues that may interfere, however what we can all do is engage, converse, and fight for equality. There is still a long road ahead of us. However as the social media movement dies down, I implore you to remember that we are fighting for a revolution - not just a trend or a hashtag.