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How to Be a Better Ally for Racial Justice

Radiance Talley | Jun 10, 2022

PART 1 IN SERIES A Guide to Anti-Racist Advocacy

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Radiance Talley | Jun 10, 2022

PART 1 IN SERIES A Guide to Anti-Racist Advocacy

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Whether people of color are the targets of overt harassment and discrimination or more subtle microaggressions, racism is a painful, recurrent trauma that is inflicted at every institution and level of our nation. 

And, as we’ve seen with the recent Buffalo massacre, racial hatred and anti-Blackness can have very dangerous and deadly consequences. 

RELATED: Dear Allies, Your Solidarity Gives Me Hope

In 1938, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote that “racial prejudice, the corrosion of which, for well-nigh a century, has bitten into the fiber, and attacked the whole social structure of American society,” should “be regarded as constituting the most vital and challenging issue confronting” the United States.

The ceaseless exertions which this issue of paramount importance calls for, the sacrifices it must impose, the care and vigilance it demands, the moral courage and fortitude it requires, the tact and sympathy it necessitates, invest this problem, which the American believers are still far from having satisfactorily resolved, with an urgency and importance that cannot be overestimated.

He stated that everyone “must participate in, and lend their assistance, each according to his or her capacity, experience, and opportunities,” to this urgent issue.

What Is an Ally for Racial Justice?

Racially oppressed and marginalized communities need the assistance and advocacy of white people and other privileged demographics — who receive more systemic power, advantages, resources, and opportunities to enact change — to achieve racial justice and unity.

RELATED: 5 Abolitionists Who Show Us What White Allyship Looks Like

Allies provide support for the downtrodden, advocate for the rights of people of color, and take action to end racism and oppression. Becoming a better ally for racial justice is a process that requires compassion, sincere effort, and a humble posture of learning. Here are nine successful practices that will help you be a better ally for racial justice:

9 Ways to Be a Better Ally for Racial Justice

1. Research Our Nation’s Racial History

Please refrain from relying on your marginalized friends to teach you everything that there is to know about race. Take the initiative to research our nation’s history of racial oppression. 

Watch documentaries like “13th,” and read books like “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander, “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” by Harriet A. Washington. And, follow anti-racist activists on social media. You’ll find that there is a treasure trove of information out there. 

2. Learn About How Our Oppressive Systems Are Harming POC Today

As you learn the real truth about our nation’s racial history, you will understand how these oppressive systems are harming Black people, and other people of color, today.

For example, according to a 2020 CBS News Report, on average, Black Americans are five times more likely to be apprehended by the police compared to white Americans. Black people are also more likely to be killed by police. The rates of deadly police encounters vary across the country, but a 2020 study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that Black Chicagoans, for instance, are over 650% more likely to be killed by police than white Chicagoans. The killing of Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, and Philando Castile are just a few examples of how Black people can be profiled and killed for doing absolutely nothing.

3. Notice What Biases You May Have

In 1938, Shoghi Effendi advised white people “to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority.” Nowadays, we refer to that unconscious sense of superiority as implicit bias. Your implicit biases influence your attitudes, behaviors, and interactions with others. 

As I mentioned earlier, these biases can have deadly consequences. So, it’s important to unlearn the racism that you have been taught, consciously or unconsciously, by the media, entertainment industry, or the community you’ve grown up in.

4. Be Open to Listening to Feedback From POC Friends

Try to foster honest and close interracial friendships, and ask your friends to tell you if you ever do or say anything that is racially offensive. If your biases are implicit, you may be unaware of how you could have hurt others. So, asking for feedback is crucial to learning and growing as an ally. Remember to listen without getting defensive and adopt a humble posture of learning.

5. When You Witness Racism, Speak Up

If you are silent when you see people acting racist, you encourage more of that same behavior. So, when you witness racism, say something. Don’t force victims to have to defend themselves. Make sure they know that they have your support.

As Shoghi Effendi wrote:

Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. It should be consistently demonstrated in every phase of their activity and life…

As you demonstrate this freedom from racial prejudice and share what you are learning with other white people in your network, you may find people who are open and receptive like you. Perhaps, you may want to think of building a community of allies.

6. Amplify the Voices of Historically Oppressed Communities

Speak up, but don’t speak over people of color. Use your privilege to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. Often, their views are overlooked or ignored. Try to make sure people listen to what they have to say online and in person.

7. Acknowledge the Indigenous Land You Are On

Our nation’s history of colonization, genocide, and oppression resulted in the theft of Indigenous people’s land. Acknowledging the Indigenous land that you now live on is an important step in racial healing. You can find out whose land you are living on by texting your zip code to (907) 312-5085.

You can then learn about the history and heritage of the Indigenous nations in your region. Of course, acknowledgment and appreciation are just the first steps. Please consider how you can take action to support Indigenous communities in your area.

8. Support Anti-Racist Organizations

Abdu’l-Baha, one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, asked us to be “the helpers of every victim of oppression” and “the patrons of the disadvantaged.”

There are so many amazing anti-racist organizations that you can support by donating your money, time, and/or resources to further the cause. The NAACP, Color of Change, and the Equal Justice Initiative are a few of these wonderful organizations.

9. Buy From Black Businesses 

Buying from Black-owned businesses is a great practice that will help you be a better ally to Black people. According to the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, the median net worth of Black households was $24,000 compared to $189,000 for white households. 

Also, a 2020 article that the United States Census Bureau published reported that Black people “reached historic lows in their poverty rates in 2019.” Buying from Black-owned businesses will help close the racial wealth gap — a gap that was created after centuries of genocide, racism, and discrimination.

As Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only.

Let each one of God’s loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord’s mercy to man; to be the Lord’s grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men.

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  • Steven Phelps
    Jun 15, 2022
    Thank you for these actionable insights. By exposing the injustice and oppression of the past, as well as confronting the injustice and oppression of the present, we are helping to prepare the way for a deeper unity.
  • Janice Cockrell
    Jun 15, 2022
    Thank you for a practical article, based in the instructions given to us by 'Abdu'l Baha and Shoghi Effendi.
  • Katharine Phelps
    Jun 14, 2022
    Thank you for this thoughtful article with meaningful actions we can take to eradicate prejudice and ensure all are lifted.
  • Katharine Phelps
    Jun 14, 2022
    Great article! It provides meaningful lines of action to strengthen our insight and interactions.
  • Gretchen Fetter
    Jun 13, 2022
    Thank you for the practical ideas!! Also very much appreciated how it was grounded in the guidance of Shoghi Effendi?
  • Elham Marder
    Jun 11, 2022
    This article is so inspiring and such a resource - I shared it with my coworkers as we often discuss allyship and DEI. It also sparked a long conversation with my 3 kids about the history of slavery in this country and continued systemic racism and what we can do. To ignore race is to ignore the horrendous suffering and atrocities that Black Americans have suffered and continue to face. We cannot bring about unity without justice, equity, truth and reconciliation.
  • William Burden
    Jun 10, 2022
    As a Canadian Baha'i, I found this article depressing. I am of the view that there are more differences within Groups than there are between Groups and therefore using terms such as color or clothing to be an alien concept which only serves to exacerbate meaningless differences. Oppressive terms like genocide, colonization, and land ownership claims are equally divisive as they do not accurately reflect history fairly, as paying for the guilt of our ancestors is a price to be paid by ALL. At the end of the day I am trying my best to remove color and other unimportant ...traits of Humanity from the narrative so that I can get straight to the heart of the inherent goodness that exists in each of us.
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