Ways to Support the BIPOC in Your Life

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This post is part of a series in which we asked writers for their thoughts on allyship and combating racism.

I have always had an interesting relationship with race. My mother is an Indian woman who was born under apartheid in South Africa. My father is a white dude from Illinois. As a result, I straddle a line between two extremely different cultural backgrounds, a foot in both worlds but never quite belonging to either.

Because of her experiences, my mother made sure she taught me about racism from a young age. But even if she hadn’t, the world around me would have. We moved to a suburb outside Boston just before my fifth birthday, the type of place where my peers’ families had lived for generations and everyone seemed to know each other from birth. At the time, we were one of a handful of non-white families in town, and as such we stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.

In school, many of my peers had never before seen an Indian person and, after seeing my mother bring me to the first day of kindergarten, assumed I was half Black for years. My best friend was Lebanese and I spent my childhood being called by her name by students and teachers who were unable to tell the only two “brown” people in class apart. The list goes on.

Because of my experiences, I always assumed on a subconscious level that I had sort of a free pass when it comes to racism. As the target of racism and a person of Indian descent myself, I’m not racist and it’s not on me to stop racism — it’s on the racists, right? WRONG!

Over the past few months, I’ve realized I need to be active in the fight against racism. We all do. Many of us have jumped into action through donations to nonprofits and in massive protests in the streets. These forms of support are beautiful, wonderful, and necessary, and I truly hope they continue. However, we need to make sure we are doing more to support the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our lives.

Establishing Support Systems & Navigating Them

With all of the racial prejudice in the spotlight recently, it has been emotionally draining for many people in the Black community. And of course, the impulse is to reach out and check on your Black friends. But before you do, make sure you are doing so for the right reasons. Let me explain.

The realization that I had about how little I had actually done to combat racism in this world, that I may have even been complicit in racism, was hard and extremely uncomfortable to sit with. But that is because it should be. We all should be feeling uncomfortable and guilty. We have failed so many BIPOC and let so many forms of racism continue unchecked and unopposed.

I’ve seen how horrified this same realization has made many people in the white community. This is good. Unfortunately, it has led many in the white community to reach out to their Black friends for some sort of absolution. This is bad.

Your impulse when reaching out to your Black friends should not be to tell them that you are one of the “good” white people. That is almost like the “not all white people” of the BLM movement. You are derailing the conversation and making it all about you and not the vulnerable community that has been wronged and is seeking help. And you are taking all of the guilt and burden that you are feeling and heaping it squarely on the shoulders of the Black person from whom you are seeking catharsis.

It is not the responsibility of your Black friends to educate you about racism. It is not the responsibility of your Black friends to tell you how to fight against racism. And it is not the responsibility of your Black friends to make you feel better about the racism you may have been complicit in, even unknowingly. The Black community has enough to worry about right now without you making your Black friends feel like they need to make you feel better about racism.

When you do reach out to your loved ones in the Black community, make sure you are doing so in a way that puts their needs first. Keep in mind that many of your Black friends may have been put on the spot or experienced some sort of tokenism at work or in other social interactions and may not want to be imposed upon in their personal lives in that way. Check on their emotions and their needs, and ask if they even have the energy to engage with you. Then offer them the type of support they need as respectfully as possible. It’s that easy.

And that guilty feeling you have for your own inaction? Instead of seeking absolution for it, use it. You’re feeling that way because somewhere inside you know you have ignored the racism around you for too long. The only way to lessen that feeling is to take action. So keep donating, keep protesting, and keep speaking out against racism. The Black community deserves all the support we can offer, and it is the responsibility of all of us as humans to do everything we can.

Tags: BIPOC

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Written By

Allie Nelson

Allie is a TV producer and writer with credits on Netflix, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, TBS, E!, & HGTV. See Full Bio

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