Janelle Monáe wants white people to speak out.
In a recent interview with Variety, Monáe explained how the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests have moved her to implore white people to galvanize around the movement. She explained,
“We need you. We need more people inside these places, inside these police precincts and these buildings, to stand up. And to be marching. And to be right there with us.”
Monáe echoed these sentiments in a now-deleted Instagram post where she wrote,
“I’m tired of talking and begging. This is a step. Only. WE NEED SYSTEMIC CHANGE and LONGTERM JUSTICE to be SERVED ON BEHALF OF OUR PEOPLE. Yes WE will keep speaking and marching AND BURNING SH*T DOWN. AND when will the majority of protests & outrage be led by white people & police officers everywhere? Internally and publicly! These are your people murdering us. Why are OUR voices & outrage LOUDER THAN YOURS during these times? WE DIDN’T DO THIS. I’m tired of US HAVING TO DO THE WORK YOU SHOULD BE DOING.”
Monáe is right. Even though there may be some black people who disagree, we need our allies, white and otherwise, in order to win this fight. Whether they like it or not, we share this world with them, and everyone deserves a society built on equality and respect. White allies have so much reach and can exist and operate in spaces that need real reform and revolutionization. There, they can sow these ideas, and it will start to slowly spread.
So what, precisely, can a non-BIPOC ally do to help? One way is to confront someone who is exhibiting racist behavior. Because of the nature of our society, a black person may be in a situation where they can’t speak up for fear of losing their job, or their life. A non-black individual could certainly speak up on their behalf to rebuke racist behavior.
This also relates to white allies when interacting with their friends and family. Education is one of the greatest tools anyone can wield, particularly in the face of racism and bigotry. If you don’t agree with what someone is saying then speak up! So many so-called white allies will happily march and hold signs but then stay silent when a friend yells out a racial slur. It may not seem like much, but it matters. Black people are so tied to the “struggle” that it can be difficult to express to others just how hard it is to hear things like the n-word come out of people’s mouths. Certain individuals will write it off as just using “the race card” or being overly sensitive. But many are more willing to listen when it’s from someone who isn’t directly affected by the situation like they are.
Additionally, if you’re a white person in a relationship with a black individual, this moment could develop as a kind of racial reckoning. It’s so easy to live in a little bubble, shielding yourself from encounters and discussions that may be uncomfortable until it slaps you in the face and you can’t ignore it any longer. The white partner absolutely has a responsibility to be an ally at that moment. It is important to just support in any way possible. Sometimes, because of ignorance or privilege, it is simply hard for non-BIPOC to understand why. In that sense, they will have to learn to listen and keep an open mind that is ready to challenge what may be long-held beliefs. And this applies to all white allies.
But, most importantly, if you want to be an ally, you must be willing to put in the effort, the genuine boots-on-the-ground work that’s going to be required in the years to come. That’s when real change can happen.