The day after the killing of George Floyd I, like everyone else, was heartbroken.
I felt helpless and hopeless and spent most of the day crying. The day after that, I wrote a quick post about allyship and shared it to the @officialmillannialblack Instagram account, which I run (I am also the author of the upcoming book Millennial Black). Then, I shared another. The posts took off. Within weeks, the account had grown from having under a thousand followers, to over 180,000.
Since then, I have spent the vast majority of my time using my (very new-found) platform to talk about allyship - what it looks like, how to do it, why it matters. I'm still in the process of getting used to the fact that I’ve become someone that people are now turning to for advice and guidance about navigating this new anti-racist landscape.
One topic that I haven't really touched on is us. Black womxn. I’ve spent so much time talking about us that I haven’t spent enough talking to us.
So let’s chat. How are you feeling after the whirlwind that has been this year?
It’s such a hard question - both loaded and hollow at the same time. So, let’s try again.
How are you feeling? I don’t mean in a ‘imfinethankyouhowareyou?’ kind of way. I mean really.
I bet, if you’re anything like me, you’re feeling a thousand things, good and bad, all at once.
How does your body feel? Mine is aching. It aches from marching and carrying signs and taking up space.
My throat hurts from chanting, from shouting right out loud, in the street, "I deserve to be here. I have a right to exist. Black Lives Matter". It hurts from saying their names over and over again - George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Belly Mujinga, Stephen Lawrence, Mark Duggan, and so many more.
How does your mind feel? Mine is exhausted - I wasn't able to get more than 3-4 hours sleep per night for the first couple of weeks after it all happened. Or rather, after it all kept happening, but this time people were watching, and this time, they seemed to care.
How does your heart feel? Mine is heavy in the knowledge that the fights that our parents fought, and theirs before them, are still not won. That we still have to take to the streets and say, "Please, I’d like to be allowed to be a person. Is that ok with you?"
But, for the first time, maybe ever, it’s also hopeful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen non-minority people rally around us to lift up our voices, leaving their houses in their thousands to say enough is enough. But the past few months have shown me it can happen.
I’m hopeful things can change, but I’m also afraid of getting my heart broken.
However many times others try to turn Black people, and Black womxn, into a monolith - a one dimensional group all thinking and feeling the same things, having the same experiences - we know that’s not true. We are all individuals, and we are all feeling things that are unique to us. And, right now, those feelings are most probably swirling around in a big, overwhelming mess. But don’t worry - we can do something about that. Here's how to cope if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed about the events of 2020.
Now that the rest of the world is catching up to the injustices of racism that we've been shouting about for years, many of us find ourselves being asked a lot of questions. People are curious - they’ve been told to listen to Black voices, so they’re buying books by Black authors and following Black content creators, but they’re also turning to their Black friends. They mean well, most of the time, but having someone send you a picture of a dying Black body under the knee of a police officer or being asked to relive your personal trauma for the education of a non-Black friend is exhausting and emotionally draining.
So set boundaries. Tell people you don’t want to see pictures of violence being committed against bodies that look like yours and the people you love. Just because this is new to them, it doesn’t mean it is to you. Remind people that they have the same access to Google that you do - and they’re very welcome to use it. I can’t count the number of DM’s I’ve received from strangers asking what the word allyship means - a process that’s much longer than just putting the word into Google and reading the first result.
This is so overwhelming. When I first started getting messages I tried to respond to each and every one with a personal message - which basically meant I didn’t sleep for a week. I had to understand that I simply couldn’t take on that burden, and I definitely couldn’t respond to any more of the thousands of DM’s that were flooding in every day. So I stopped, and so can you.
Remind people we’re not their teachers, or their sounding boards. We’re people who were already tired and don’t need to take on the added burden of their education.
Make space for Black joy
Whew! I’ve never seen more images of Black people on my feeds and timeline. The thing is - they’re mostly either dead, dying, or fighting for their right to live.
Our feeds can become echo chambers of sadness, and so especially at times like this, it’s important to make sure that we are consciously making room for black joy. Recently I spent time looking at a thread of Black people laughing together. Just being silly. They’re singing, they’re joking, they’re laughing. It. Felt. Amazing. I realised that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen us just being carefree.
Look at the #blackjoy hashtag on Instagram. It will do you the world of good.
Find workplace allies
A lot of people have been asking me recently how to raise conversations with difficult bosses, or in hostile workplaces. To that I always say - where possible, use your allies. People hate the suggestion that anything they’ve done is racist, or that the system that they are part of is based on, and benefits form structural racism - as most large companies do. They especially hate it when a person of colour brings it up. Their response is usually to become defensive, closed off, or even worse to start crying, which quickly reframes you as a difficult person, or even a bully, for calling out structures simply not designed to benefit you, or even to actively hold you back.
As we’ve seen in several examples over the past few months - when people come together to raise and amplify the voices and experiences of their non-white colleagues, it's possible to make real change at the highest levels.
Speak to friends at work about the issues that you’re facing. As we’ve seen in this moment of awakening amongst majority people, many have been blind to the systems that lift them up whilst holding ethnic minority people down until now (an issue for another day). Ask them to come to meetings with you, sign letters, and push your employer to pledge to make tangible change - and keep them accountable for following through in the upcoming weeks and months.
Together we can achieve so much more than alone. Like Rihanna said - tell your friends to pull up.
You are worth more than the sum of your output. Stereotypes like the 'Strong Black Womxn', and the growth of rise and grind culture mean that as Black womxn we can often feel that if we’re not producing we’re wasting time, which can be a huge strain on our mental health. This need to always be active, prove my worth, grind and hustle is something I subconsciously struggled with for years, and still haven’t been able to fully move away from to this day.
You need it. We all need it. And you deserve it. Deeply. Always, but especially now.
For additional support and information on mental health issues, visit Mind.org.uk
By request, Sophie's fee for this article will be donated to The Trevor Project, in appreciation of their work supporting Black LGBT youth mental health.
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