I am not Alton Sterling. If you are white or white-passing, you are not Alton Sterling.
The first rule of allyship is this: don’t make it all about you.
Do not change your profile picture to whatever inane filter Facebook will come up with (but also, who are we kidding, there won’t be a “we support #blacklivesmatter” filter just as there is no “pray for Baghdad” filter).
Do not turn to your friends and family of color to educate you. Do not use this as an opportunity for debate on social media. And seriously, if you even think about using the word “devil’s advocate,” kindly find the nearest subway car without air conditioning, sit in for at least an hour, and think about your choices.
Devil’s advocates are not allies. They are literally devil’s advocates.
In the end, remember that you, white person, probably got to do the daily tasks of your life without taking to your bed due to the overwhelming and not irrational fear that someone you care about will be killed by a white cop with a gun.
Did you pay your credit card bill? Did you get a drink with friends? Did you do your laundry, go for a run, eat a delicious meal?
Do you think Alton Sterling’s partner and child did that today?
The second rule is this: even though it’s not all about you, do not be so ignorant as to believe that these injustices do not affect you.
You live in this world. The people you love live in this world. Your children will live in this world. You are a part of history who can either watch the fight for justice, participate in it, or continue to pretend that your life is not tethered to those who suffer.
What role do you want to play? Do you want to be a Freedom Rider? Do you want to be the person who threw rocks and set the dogs on the Freedom Riders? Or do you want to stand on the road and watch the bus go by?
I really love this article called “Concrete Ways to Be An Actual Ally to Black People,” which describes the numerous political, economic, and social ways that white allies can effect structural change on behalf of the #blacklivesmatter movement. The author, Avital Norman Nathman, suggests (among other options) calling your local representatives and police departments, donating to the GoFundMe efforts to support victims’ families, and advocating on social media.
To this I’d add: don’t be afraid to make small changes in your everyday social networks. Reach out to your black friends who may need some extra comfort and support. Give your black coworkers space and time off if they need it. Please call out the problematic opinions of your fellow white people. Explain to them why “all lives matter” or “police lives matter” is not okay. Take on the burden of educating them so that it does not lie solely on people of color.
But in order to do that, you must follow the third rule: read everything you can. Read Baldwin. Read Morrison. Memorize the words of Douglass, DuBois, Washington, Lorde, Hughes, Walker, McKay, Rankine, Coates, Mock, and every black writer you can get your hands on.
And for the love of God, you must read black women and black genderqueer people and black trans people because if your allyship isn’t intersectional then it is useless.
But, if you have no close friends who are black, I’m really not interested to hear what you think about Between the World and Me.
Read a lot; listen more. Speak less; listen more. Chant for justice; listen more.
Allyship must be thoughtful, empathetic, and selfless. It must be all the things that violence is not.
In a world where so much harm is inflicted daily, we white and white-passing folks must hold ourselves to the highest standards of care and compassion.