Growing up in a Staffordshire village from 1994 to 2007 meant I didn't see anyone who looked like me. My childhood was whitewashed, save my Dad, brother and ‘Scary Spice’ (wait, was she ‘scary’ because of her opinions or her Blackness?).
For a long time I believed I would find acceptance when my world became less white, but moving to London aged 18 taught me different. I began to feel that very few people identified with me - so identifying with anybody else felt pointless. If I were keeping it light for you I’d say I made like Beyoncè and identified with me, myself and I. The real truth is that I ran away from my heritage.
I didn’t learn to look after or experiment with my hair; I didn’t learn to cook recipes from Mum or Dad’s homelands even though I love to eat them; I didn’t travel to meet family in the Caribbean or journey to India to retrace my Grandad’s footsteps, and I didn’t learn how to have conversations about race.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of weeks you’ll know that we’re living through an awakening to the system of racism. Hundreds of thousands of people have realised, almost overnight, that if you’re not actively dismantling systemic racism, you are the bricks and mortar that hold it up.
I’m 30 now, and in the last few years I’ve become tired of running from myself. I’ve realised I’m as ill-equipped to talk about race as many of my white friends and family, and I’m sad to say, for a large chunk of my life, I wasn’t doing anything to dismantle the system. The complication with being ‘multi-ethnic’ is that you need to give and receive allyship. I’m learning how to do just that, and I’d love to take you along for the ride.
I’ve spent the last week speaking to women - some of whom have been active allies since they can remember, and some are just beginning - about how to be a better ally. Here’s what they had to say:
Use your voice
“Allyship. I didn’t know that was a term until a friend posted it last weekend. I assumed I was one, but saying 'that’s what I am' and not doing anything about it isn’t good enough. That’s a hard truth. I need to know more history so I’ve started looking for novels by Black authors so that I can connect with their stories. I’ve started signing petitions too; before I thought my voice wouldn’t make a difference, now I know that my silence said more.”
- Sami, therapist
Don't do it for applause
“Right now people are claiming to be allies for woke points. That in itself is a problem. True allyship doesn't need to be broadcasted. It's a continuous process and the reward is knowing you’re on the right side of history.”
- Gabby, Executive Director @TheBlackGirlTribe
Speak up even when we’re not there
“At my old job there was a colleague who would always speak up for me. Even if I wasn’t in the room, she made sure my voice was heard and kept me in the loop. She was the reason I was able to stick it out working there until it was the right time for me to leave.”
- Maria, Creative/Business Owner
Don't shy away when it gets uncomfortable
“I’m mixed and I get so much privilege. I talk about racism with my friends and family, and for some of them I am the only non-white person they know. Even when I feel uncomfortable I know that I have to say something, because those people will at least listen to me. I make sure to continually listen and learn; I don’t want to talk on someone’s behalf without really knowing what they would want me to say.”
- Iman, Artist/Songwriter
Hold brands to account
“I’m not convinced many white people want to talk about the ugly truths of our history but speaking up is very obviously the correct thing to do, especially if you have an audience that might listen to you. When I resume posting beauty videos (now doesn’t feel like the right time) I’ll be looking closely at the brands I choose to feature. It will be really interesting to see the brands who respond to @pullupforchange.”
- Sam Chapman, beauty content creator
Your endorsement matters
“I’ve always had allies, and I wish other women were as lucky. You need to put other women on. I’m successful because I work incredibly hard, but also because of the allies I’ve had. Caroline Hirons has always been a great ally. Endorsing me, pointing people in my direction; she raises her hand for me and others, all the time.”
Learn the history
“I’m a musician, I know my life and the work I do would be nothing without Black culture. I’m currently reading Akala’s Natives and follow his social media, he’s an incredible educator. I love films too and there are some that can help people understand Black history: Hidden Figures, When They See Us and Blackkklansman to name a few.”
- Anna, Musician
Teach the next generation
“I’ve been thinking, have I used or found an opportunity to understand and celebrate the history of other races? Probably not. I have children now, and we’re making sure they hear stories about people from all ethnicities and that we have conversations about race. My plan is to keep educating ourselves and face up to some uncomfortable conversations”
- Sammy, Full Time Mum
Know your power
“I work in TV and film, and diversity is a term that has been hollowed out by constant over-use and under-delivery. The industry is yet to change in any fundamental way. I hope white colleagues - casting producers, commissioners, channel execs - grasp allyship with two-hands. On-screen representation determines how people think about Black and brown communities. It’s a huge responsibility.”
- Maegan, Producer
Allyship can also be in the small things
“It’s always painful if someone denies your experiences as a Black woman. Allies need to leave space for people with lived experience and then support them by endorsing that their account is accurate. Equally, a white woman has literally just said she’s sending me doughnuts because she knows they bring me joy. I need joy right now. Allyship isn’t only learning our history or going on marches, it’s also sending doughnuts to cheer us up!”
- Amina, Organiser with BLMUK
Across every conversation there was a recurring theme: that allyship requires continual action. Some of the women I’ve spoken to recently are exhausted; they’ve been trying to have these conversations for a lifetime, and suddenly now everyone’s ready to listen so they don’t want to miss the opportunity to be heard. It’s our duty to implement allyship properly so the world will keep listening.
Let’s fill our timelines with new accounts, watch films, read books and sign petitions. But most importantly, let’s take action, let’s have the difficult conversations - and let’s be a mouthpiece for the person who isn’t in the room.
Follow Grace on Instagram.
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