black and white friends
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You can be my ally but I am not your teacher.

I realize it may feel off-putting for you but look at it from my perspective. For most of my White friends I'm likely one of the few Black people they know and I don't have the time, energy or qualifications to brief everyone individually on Black history. There are plenty of resources readily available and people who love to teach. If you're keen to learn, you'll find it yourself. When you're ready to get a better understanding of the historical Black experience, the responsibility is yours.

You can be my ally but I am not your counselor.

As you learn more about the centuries of injustice, brutality and racial terrorism Black people have endured, you will grieve. It's heart-breaking. It's awful. And it's still going on. You'll want to work through your grief but I can't journey with you or help you process. I've worked through my own denial, anger and depression and I'm moving toward acceptance and finding purpose in our future. Please spare me the "I can't believe it", because I was forced to come to terms with it long ago. Catch up when you’re ready.

You can be my ally when you see your own prejudices and biases.

We all have them, they form quietly, often planting subconsciously through the company we keep and the media we digest. But it's not okay to hold on to those lies. Challenge the foundation of your thoughts and ideas and acknowledge the assumptions you've made about race, gender and socioeconomics. If your opinions are formed by lies, it will be near impossible for you to accept the truth. Start to question the ground on which you stand and how you reached that place. This is where humility helps in helping find our flawed ways of thinking and believing. We all have plenty of work to do in this area.

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You can be my ally when you forgive yourself.

As you read, listen and learn, you'll likely realize you've said and done some harmful things along the way. Your parents, grandparents and long-gone ancestors haven’t been perfect either. We already know. But your guilt and shame don’t bring any of us closer to healing. I'm tired of reassuring you that you’re "one of the good ones". It's not about you. I've already forgiven you for not knowing what you didn't know, it's time you do the same for yourself. Acknowledge your privileges and advantages but shed the guilt; you didn't build this system but, together, we'll dismantle it.

You can be my ally when you seek to understand instead of defend.

Listen and accept criticism with grace, not guilt. If I've shared feedback with you, it means I trust you and believe you’re open to growth. There’s no need to defend yourself because I’m not attacking; I just want you to understand. People are quick to dismiss critique by insisting they aren't racist. To me, making a racist comment doesn't mean you're a racist person, so hear me out and try to understand why it's offensive instead of guarding your ego. I accept you and your mistakes. You will unlearn and relearn as we go, as long as you’re open to it.

You can be my ally when you listen without minimizing my experience or telling me how to feel.

"I don't see why it's a big deal. If it were me…" Stop. It's not you. It's me. And I would love to explain to you why it bothers me. We don't have the same experiences, the same baggage, or the same lenses through which we see the world. You may not get it but I'm asking you to listen and respect it. Please don't explain it away or liken our experiences. Please don't tell me I'm over-reacting until you fully understand the depth and breadth of Black people's suffering. For now, be willing to sit in the discomfort with me.

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You can be my ally when you see me. All of me.

Please, for the love of God, stop saying you don’t see colour. You do. What you’re actually doing is choosing to ignore a part of me that makes you uncomfortable. Talking about race is awkward and especially touchy these days, I get it. But pretending it doesn’t exist doesn't help me feel loved, seen or valued. I am Black—it’s a critical part of my identity. Embrace and value me as a whole person, not just the pieces you're comfortable with. My blackness won't be the topic of every conversation but it cannot be ignored.

You can be my ally when you ask how to stand with me.

This applies to any time you're journeying with a friend through difficult times. Instead of assuming you have the right solution, ask what support, if any, they need. You know the movies where one friend insists on taking another to a strip club to get over a breakup? Don't be that guy. I need empathy and compassion, accountability and humility, not self grandeur and misguided shows of force. At times, standing with me is silent support or it could be you speaking up first, or it could be nothing at all. If you ask, I'll tell you.

You can be my ally when you live it out and no longer feel the need to announce it.

Protests have quieted, social feeds are back to food, selfies and babies, and our focus is back on 45 and his incessant divisiveness. Now what? It's time for you to live out the anti-racism principles you're learning. It's easy to like and share #blacklivesmatter posts but it's much harder to call out friends or family when they've crossed a line. It's uncomfortable to choose anti-racism over your own comfort but I want you to realize that being an ally isn't easy. You may feel unqualified and you will certainly feel awkward. If you choose not to, I understand, being an ally isn't for everyone. But please don't mistake neutrality as a positive. When it comes to racism, you're either actively against it or you may as well be for it.

You can be my ally when you realize this fight is just as much yours as it is mine.

You're not a helper, an assistant or my saviour. As an ally you're an empathetic person who is willing to take on the struggle of transforming hearts and bringing awareness to racial equality. Even if you don't fully understand or feel qualified to speak against racism, you can stand up for what's right, you can denounce what's wrong. You can be just as determined to spread love in this world that seems more committed to hate. This is not a Black issue that you cheer from the sidelines; you're part of this movement. If you so choose.


You can be my ally without telling me. I'll already know.


A curious and inquisitive storyteller at heart, Devon is a copywriter based in London, ON. Send him a note here.


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