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White allyship: hindering or boosting Black Lives Matter?

6 mins read

The recent surge in the number of protests for the Black Lives Matter movement all over the world has brought a more extensive set of questions, focused around the anti-racist movement, to public attention.

One of the most notable aspects of what is considered one of “the largest movement in U.S. history”, according to the New York Times, is the unprecedented high percentage of white allyship and support towards the movement and its protests. According to Jesse Washington, senior reporter for the race-centered magazine The Undefeated, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained more traction recently because of the COVID-19 lockdown (which limited the public’s distractions and focused the world’s attention on the gruesome murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery, for example) and the recent input of black culture and history into mainstream media, via movies like “Harriet” (2019).

However, J. Washington also argues that Donald Trump’s government spurred many allies into action, especially after the Ferguson protests of 2014, when the (white) public opinion seemed to believe the system was being “reformed”, only to be proven untrue in recent months.

White girl shields black man from the police on May 31st, 2020, during a protest near the White House. Video by Shomari Stone.

Despite the volume of white support, many black civil rights activists have also challenged the troubling usage of this movement as a “trend” by white people to prove that they are “politically correct”. Many have criticised the “Blackout Tuesday” Instagram trend, which consisted of posting a single black square, because of its performative nature.

Several public figures have also been under tight scrutiny after being found out to have used the movement as an opportunity to grow their social media platforms. Singer and songwriter Madison Beer was under fire recently for allegedly staging an Instagram photoshoot with a professional photographer during a protest in Los Angeles, according to Cosmopolitan.

The singer has now denied such claims, however, public opinion seems to be against her because many other celebrities have protested and avoided posting about it on their social media. This contrasts with John Boyega and Halsey, who have been extremely vocal in their support for this movement. 

Madison Beer protesting in Los Angeles, standing on the hood of a car. Photo by @jvshvisions on Instagram.

Lastly, many black civil rights activists and reporters have explored the newlyfound change in public opinion regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement can be traced back to 2013, when Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the black-led political movement following the murder of Trayvon Martin.

However, the movement has gained most of its current supporters in recent years. According to the Roper Center’s iPoll Databank and The Washington Post, the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests shifted the public’s opinion largely towards fully supporting the movement, especially after the police killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner as a result of the Ferguson protests, but the responsible officers were not indicted.

This data also proved that attitudes towards race and policing shifted more in the cities where protests were held and that the youngest generations’ views shifted the most. According to Michael Tesler, a reporter for The Washington Post, this is proof that the 2020 protests (which are notably more widespread than their previous counterparts because they spread to other countries, especially in Europe) will further shift the public’s opinion in a vital move towards black liberation.

Michael Brown’s memorial, displaying his last words and the date of his death. Photo by Joshua Lott.

It can be argued that the recent shift in white attitude towards the Black Lives Matter movement has inspired further change in our attitude towards black liberation, because of the extent of the protests and their mediatisation. Every day, new cases where black people were wrongfully convicted or killed by white police officers and more of these cases are being reopened and reinvestigated due to public pressure. This is an important step forward for this movement. However, most black activists agree that there is more work to be done still. Some cases have been dropped or stagnant for too long, like Breonna Taylor’s case. Many argue that this is due to the misogyny within the Black Lives Matter movement, because it seems like the cases where the victims are male are predominantly solved faster.

Many black activists also argue that white allies need to do more than just protest, because information is the key way to combat racial injustice and achieve black liberation. Here is a list of a few guides to aid good allyship and resources to keep informed. These also contain sites to make donations towards bailfunds and other organizations:

Featured image: White allies form a human shield to protect black protesters from the police in Louisville on May 28th, 2020. Photo by Tim Druck.

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