Reflections on allyship and anti-racism conversations
Kendra Kerr is a member of the DiverseCity Fellows 2020 cohort and Manager, Partnerships and Projects at MLSE Foundation.
The world is changing. The activism we are seeing today through massive social media campaigns (#blackouttuesday), or countless brands releasing statements calling for racial justice, or even the significant demonstrations in Toronto (and around the world) calling for a divestment in police budgets, are in direct response to what seems like a global rise in consciousness. It feels like people, especially White folks like me, are coming to the table ready to learn. There seems to be a wider societal recognition about the impact of oppression through systems that foster anti-Black Racism; systems we (read: white people) were too privileged to notice, or ones we habitually ignored.
So, what makes this moment in time different? Why now?
Some scholars have argued that it is because young people (primarily Millennials and Generation Z) are more engaged than ever in civic issues with the sheer amount of information available through channels like social media. This certainly felt true when CivicAction held space for 30, diverse rising leaders as part of the DiverseCity Fellows program on June 6.
As a 2020 Fellow, Millennial, White woman, and someone who awkwardly navigates allyship daily in my work, I am not new to conversations about racial inequality, but this discussion felt different. We all deeply connected because we cared about this issue. Fellows from all walks of life and professions shared openly and honestly about their role and response to this seemingly large shift in global consciousness. Many folks felt frustrated and understandably exhausted by lived experience and what feels like constant advocacy for racial justice. Other Fellows felt cautious optimism about a renewed spotlight for a longstanding issue; and many of us felt overwhelmed at the amount of internal and external work that needs to happen for deeper understanding.
For my part, I spoke about the importance of White folks standing in solidarity with BIPOC communities and actively dismantling racist systems that we continue to benefit from. I shared that, for me, allyship is something you practise and never perfect. As someone who actively benefits from privilege, its easy to misstep without the wisdom of lived experience, but you can’t let that fear of failure prevent you from standing up and speaking out.
We know that it is up to all of us to hold institutions, businesses and their leaders accountable as they work towards equality. In a climate where many brands released statements about Black Lives Matter, it is more important than ever for them to do the work to live up to those statements—in all facets of their business. From HR hiring, policies and procedures, workplace culture, corporate social responsibility initiatives and everything in between. They need to start embodying the values they say they represent.
We know that issues of inequality and racism are not new. Societal norms and systems of White supremacy, created by powerful folks well before our time, have endured. These systems have outlasted right- and left-wing governments, countless justice inquiries and government apologies, corporate statements about diversity, human rights charters, and countless attempts to glaze over deeply rooted issues of intersectional racial inequality. But after the session, we left feeling a deep sense of collective purpose. Racism isn’t new- but this movement is. As Fellows, we may not agree on the path to achieving racial equality in our region, but we have a strong sense of shared responsibility in negotiating it together. To our generation(s) the status-quo is no longer acceptable and THAT is why this moment feels different.