At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests and following George Floyd's death in May, author Sophie Williams posted 10 slides to Instagram outlining how to be an anti-racist ally. Her slides, which were created in response to those outside the Black community wanting to help and be allies, went viral. Then Justin Bieber shared them with his 139 million-strong following.
The slides stated the difference between being non-racist and anti-racist (not being racist is not allyship; anti-racism is calling out racist actions), asking people to educate themselves — instead of asking their minority friends to do it for them — and calling for others to diversify their feeds.
Now, Williams is publishing a book described as a "punchy, pocket-sized guide" for those wanting to learn how to be an ally to the Black community. The book, Anti-Racist Ally: An Introduction To Action & Activism, unpicks complex topics surrounding racism and white supremacy and offers advice to those looking to deepen their anti-racist action.
"I wanted to write this book as a tool for people who are beginning their journeys in being actively anti-racist but aren't sure where to begin or how to use their voices, and for those who have already started their journeys but are looking for new ways to keep up the anti-racist momentum," Williams tells Refinery29. She adds that since putting anti-racist content on her Instagram following the death of George Floyd, a number of people have reached out to her, saying this is the first time they have engaged with such content.
She continues: "I see this book as a way to take this conversation offline and to create something small, accessible and affordable that people can keep, and share, as a tool to continue their anti-racism and become better allies."
In the following extract from the book, Williams shares some valuable tips on how to become a strong ally in your social circle and how to make space for Black joy.
Become An Ally In Your Social Circle
Becoming an ally in your social circle means two things:
1. Listening to the experiences of your marginalised friends, holding space for their feelings and using your voice and actions to fight on their behalf.
2. Engaging with your white friends, sharing the things you have learned, leading by example, and pushing them to be better allies themselves.
Our social circles are real opportunities for dialogue, collaboration and making quick and impactful change.
What Does Your Social Circle Look Like?
If we’re going to talk about allyship in our social circles, the first thing we need to do is take a good look at exactly who our friends are. Can you honestly say that you have a diverse group of friends? If not, why is that?
If your friendship circle is diverse, are you someone with whom your non-white friends can be comfortable talking openly about their lived experiences? If not, why might that be? Don’t try to make new friends just because of the colour of their skin – this is tokenism and can be belittling to them as people. (Honestly, we know when we’re your token Black friend.)
Instead, simply notice where you’re starting from, and be conscious of the changes that happen as you continue in your public allyship.
Let Your Actions Speak For Themselves
Don’t go out of your way to tell your friends that you are now an anti-racist ally. Instead do the work, consistently, and let your actions speak for themselves. There will be people who don’t like, or don’t see the value in what you’re doing. It’s down to you whether you try to convince them, or focus your energy on areas where you can make clear change.
There will be many others who want to learn from your example, some will reach out to tell you, and others you will impact without ever knowing you did so. The things you do and the actions you take have ripples that will spread far beyond you.
Build A Support System
To be successful in your allyship it’s important you have a support network and that you’re conscious of other people’s experiences and boundaries.
When you see photos, videos or articles about the injustices suffered by marginalised people on your news feeds, on TV or in the headlines, you might feel compelled to share it with non-white friends with a message of shock and disgust, and how sorry you are. I understand why you want to do this, but pay close attention when I say this: Please never do that again. It’s vital not to re-traumatise your marginalised friends.
We share images of Black and brown bodies being beaten, dying, gasping for breath in ways that we would never dream of sharing images of white people. If your friend hasn’t seen that particular piece, they will have seen countless others like it. We already know. We are living it.
So, who can you reach out to? Reach out to your white friends, these are the people who need to hear the message the most, and those who are most likely to have the emotional capacity to give the support that you need. Form a support system. Keep each other on track and motivated.
Hold Space For Black Joy
Working and fighting for change can be hard. It’s draining work. Not least because when we begin, we are often bombarded by information about and images of Black and brown bodies suffering and in pain. As well as having difficult conversations, make sure you are also holding space for Black and brown people to exist in your life as real, fully rounded, joyful people.
Read books about Black and brown people living, not just dying. Engage in content where they thrive, rather than just survive. Remembering the full and complex range of lives and emotions in marginalised people is humanising, and a lot of fun.
You’ll feel better for it.
Beware Of Performative Allyship
Now is not the time to start posting pictures of yourself next to every racially marginalised person you’ve ever met or had a drink with to prove that not only are you an ally, you always have been. Again, being an ally isn’t about proving to the world what a good person you are, but about fighting injustice and making long-term change.
Before you post a picture or even act, take a moment to consider: would you still be doing this if no one saw it? If not, your allyship is performative, self-serving and unlikely to still be important to you once news cycles move on and Black Lives Matter stops trending.
Anti-Racist Ally: An Introduction To Action And Activism by Sophie Williams is published by HQ on 15th October, priced £6.99.