Joyful Living

How to Be an Ally and Advocate

Bonjour!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about racism, sexism, and homophobia in American society. The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery once again throw into sharp relief the racial divide in the United States and the undeniable fact that our toxic culture places less value on certain lives than others, especially when it comes to black and white. Perhaps not a typical topic for a blog about joyful living, but we cannot be truly joyful if we are not living from a place of empathy and inclusivity.

Joyful living means incorporating simple pleasures like baking cookies and cutting flowers and calling friends into everyday life. It also means acting as an ally and an advocate, from where I shop and dine, to what I read and watch, to what news and information I trust and share, to how I respond to inappropriate and unjust behavior and language. Today’s post shares ways we can all be advocates and allies: by reading up, showing up, and speaking up.

Read Up

Celebrating International Women’s Day with my mother, March 2017

One way to be an ally and advocate is to read up. Educate yourself about black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), female, and LGBQIA+ communities. Freely accessible articles, books, television shows, and films abound in public libraries and online, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ seminal 2014 article The Case for Reparations in The Atlantic.

When I took a critical race theory class in fall 2016, I realized how disengaged with literature and history I’d become since graduating from the University of Alabama in the early aughts. I read Coates’ Between the World and Me (the title is a nod to a Richard Wright poem). This 2015 epistolary memoir deepened my understanding of the black male experience in America. The day after the 2016 presidential election, I listened to Coates’ keynote address at a conference, covering the normalization of sexual assault and violence against women and girls, the broken policing system, and racism.

Take note of what you are reading and watching. When I consider what I saw as a child represented on the screen, whether film, television, or news, the characters were predominantly white. White male and sometimes female characters were leads. Queer characters were sideshows. Black characters were criminals.

These patriarchal and sexists tropes reinforce the social constructs of race, gender, and sexual orientation to serve capitalistic interests. I’ve seen increasing representation of BIPOC, female, and queer voices in literature and television in the past few years, and am cautiously optimistic these industries are expanding and embracing representations of non-white and non-cisgender stories.

You can also personally work to dismantle these constructs by expanding your purview to include voices of color, female voices, and queer voices. My current favorite shows on Netflix promote inclusivity across variety of genres: Queer Eye (I love a good makeover and hug fest), Nadiya’s Time to Eat (my favorite contestant in 10 seasons of The Great British Bake Off got her own cooking show!), Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (a fresh dose of political comedy), and Dear White People (a woke college dramedy). Reading up and being informed creates understanding and empathy for others, which you can channel into action.

Show Up

Street art in New York City’s Union Square, January 2017

Another way to be an ally and advocate is to show up. Showing up is joining women’s marches or protests of racial injustice. Showing up is donating time and money to advocacy organizations like the Me Too Movement, Black Lives Matter, and the Human Rights Campaign, to name just a few. Showing up is letting the people in your life you love and support them through your words and actions.

Showing up is also being informed, being present, and being vulnerable. Maybe stepping out with a Love is Love T-shirt, an Uppity Women Unite bumper sticker on your car, or a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard makes you uncomfortable. What’s more uncomfortable is silence and complicity.

There is no one single right way to show up. At its core, showing up is engagement outside of yourself with people who may not look or live or love like you, but who need your support. It is also a willingness to resist, fight, and dismantle the power that sidelines and suffocates the BIPOC, female, and queer communities.

Again, reconsider: what are you reading? Where do you get your news? With whom are you speaking and connecting? How can you invite new voices to your personal table and engage in diversified discourse? When you show up for those already in your own life, you can show up for the movement. We are all in this together.

Speak Up

Celebrating Pride Month, June 2019

Being an ally and advocate means you must also speak up. While essential, reading up is also easy. You can passively watch television or read a book from the comfort of your own home. Speaking up is hard, which is, of course, why you must do it.

Hasan Minhaj recently spoke up about systemic racism and modern-day lynching. The “We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd” episode of Patriot Act is a call to arms for Asian Americans to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hasan identified my own anxiety about speaking about BLM because I am not black and do not want to offend anyone: “I can’t speak to what it’s like to be black, but I know how we talk about black people. And it is fucked up because it is a microcosm if America.” I know how we talk about the black community and communities of color in the United States, I know it is wrong, and I know I can help tear down institutional racism and white supremacy by speaking up.

You do not need to be a celebrity or public figure with a popular show or millions of social media followers to speak up. If you don’t like the way someone is acting in a meeting or your home, speak up. If an organization of which you are a member lacks diversity or reinforces stereotypes, speak up.

I’ve removed people from my home and left civic organizations for using racist language. You may feel ineffectual or insignificant or inelegant, but your voice and your actions are critical to dismantling racism, sexism, and homophobia in our society and culture. It’s like being conscientious at the airport: if you see something, say something. You may stumble or falter. But a choked cry for justice is better than none at all.

How can you start being an ally and an advocate today?

Merci for reading and please subscribe and share!

À votre santé,

Katie

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