Life

Dear White People, Here's How to Respectfully Join a Black Lives Matter Protest

For the love of god, don't turn up in a dashiki.
12 June 2020, 8:00am
Black Lives Matter protest in London
Photo: Alex Rorison

This June, the people of America and Europe have been forced to confront their dark and brutal history of racism. Over the last fortnight, protests have erupted around the world in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In London alone, thousands turned up over the weekend to march on Downing Street and the American Embassy, with more protests planned this weekend.

These demonstrations have been notably diverse, with white people showing up and offering the possibility of true solidarity with their Black counterparts – but there's also been a few egregious examples of white people doing wild shit, like treating a protest like a Depop fashion shoot or making signs about their Black boyfriends. If you've logged on, seen #BLM trending and want to get involved with the next protest, here's how to take part without accidentally being racist yourself.

  1. BE PREPARED TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE

For those with white privilege new to activism, you're going to hear the different ways white supremacy has infiltrated our daily lives. Realising you've been blissfully unaware and complicit this entire time will be tough, but Black people and people of colour have experienced racism their entire lives. We don't have time for white tears, or to hear how much you love the Black friend you met in the club toilets just before lockdown. It's counterproductive and situates yourself in the middle of conversations that aren't about you.

  1. STOP FETISHISING BLACK PEOPLE ON YOUR PLACARDS

The hypersexualisation of Black bodies has a long history stemming back to slavery. Writing "I love black dick so you will hear me speak" on a sign and waving it around in the faces of black people is just a huge YIKES. I can assure you, this will not get you laid.

  1. DON'T GET DEFENSIVE AND SAY YOU'RE NOT RACIST

Unfortunately, hun, this entire world is racist. Colonialism and imperialism has made sure that racism and anti-Blackness is global. We're all born into a racist society. Fact.

  1. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON'T TURN UP IN A DASHIKI OR KENTE CLOTH

That's it. Just don't. Honestly, please don't. One: you look ridiculous. Two: wearing clothing that has significant cultural meaning and is historically used as a way to resist Eurocentric ideals around clothing and beauty is the worst way to show solidarity.

  1. DON'T SAY IT'S ABOUT 'PEACE, LOVE AND UNITY'

Unless your day job is writing empty slogans for middle-aged gin mums, policing Black people's responses to any kind of brutality makes you look like a dick. If someone consistently made your life difficult, subjected you to trauma and then kept murdering people who look exactly like you, you'd be pretty pissed off too.

  1. DON'T SAY 'VIOLENCE ISN'T THE ANSWER'

As a silencing technique that's the cousin of "peace, love and unity", saying violence isn't the answer is just another way of telling us to simmer down. A quick Google will let you know that uprisings, enslaved people's revolts and the US Civil Rights Act of 1964, plus the 1965 Race Relations Act in the UK, were not achieved through polite requests.

Photo: Chris Bethell

  1. DON'T SAY 'IT WILL BE FINE IF WE ALL JUST PROTEST PEACEFULLY WITH THE POLICE'

Come on now, you can't be this dim. What part of "protesting against police brutality and pushing for the abolition of the entire force, with resources invested in education, healthcare and housing instead" don't you understand?

  1. IF YOU'RE NOT PREPARED TO CHALLENGE YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY ON THEIR RACIST BEHAVIOUR, PLEASE STAY AT HOME

We're not asking every white person to personally go to 10 Downing Street or the White House and dismantle systemic racism by hand. At the most basic level, we just don't want to be subjected to racial abuse. If you see or hear something from those closest to you and refuse to speak up, you're complicit.

  1. IF YOU'RE NOT ABLE TO ATTEND A PROTEST, BUY BLACK

Not everyone can attend a protest, for a multitude of reasons, but what you can do is support Black businesses that are often overlooked. Especially during lockdown, these businesses are struggling to survive.

  1. DON'T TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BLACK PARTNER

I'm pretty sure they would be vexed if they knew you were using them as a prop to distance yourself from your own whiteness.

  1. DON'T SHOOT YOUR SHOT

It might seem fairly obvious, but moving to people at a protest might not be the best idea (unless they're peng and giving you THAT look, then maybe go for it). Protests are a time for reflection and collective organising, not getting laid. But I guess prison abolitionist theory does make for great pillow talk.

  1. AVOID PHOTOGRAPHING PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT

It's not only creepy and feeds into the narrative of Black bodies being dehumanised through the white gaze, but you could also be putting the protesters in danger. Law enforcement will be looking to prosecute anyone they can tangibly link to any violence or vandalism. Plus it's just kinda weird taking photos of strangers?

  1. PROTESTS ARE NOT A MUSIC FESTIVAL

I know we've been in lockdown for a while now and we all miss the sesh, but protests are not an excuse to get lit. (I think kids still say "lit"?) Put the mini-rigs away and save the cans with the lads for when we're not mourning Black people who have just been murdered.

  1. STOP SHARING FAKE NEWS

One of the easiest things you can do is fact check before you share an article. If in doubt, don't share it. The media is one of the biggest propaganda machines, and it feeds off misinformation to spread and reinforce anti-Black racism and white supremacy.

  1. STOP TRYING TO LEAD CHANTS

I have no idea what you're about to say with regards to racism, but there's no need to hear it. This is a time to prioritise Black voices.

  1. THIS APPLIES TO ASKING TO SPEAK DURING THE SPEECHES, TOO

When you woke up, showered, brushed your teeth, got dressed and headed out, at any point did it not occur to you that you're going to a Black Lives Matter protest and, therefore, those giving speeches would be Black people speaking about the ways in which their lives have not, but should, matter? No? Okay then.

  1. PROTESTS ARE NOT A FASHION SHOW

I know it's important to keep your Depop career going during lockdown, but turning up in your Saturday night best and instructing your personal photographer or bestie to take photos of you purely for the gram is not a good look. I can confirm that you've served approximately zero looks.

  1. MAYBE DON'T PUSH PAST BLACK PEOPLE TO GET TO THE FRONT OF THE MARCH

You're a Grade A twat if you do this.

  1. THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO PROMOTE YOUR MUSIC

Ordinarily, I would be willing to listen to a clip of your new track if you're hot. But advertising your new single and how it's been directly influenced (i.e. stolen) from Black music/musicians, then adding #BLM, is just absurdly tone deaf and performative. Looking at you especially, Matty Healy from The 1975.

  1. DON'T START ANOTHER CONVERSATION ABOUT CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

No, we do not appreciate Jamie Oliver butchering jollof rice, and no, I will never get over it.

  1. BE PREPARED TO INTERVENE

If you're planning on ghosting when things get tough or when the police decide to move mad, do us all a favour and stay home. The police do not think twice before shooting or abusing a Black body – it's arguably what they're trained to do. One of the most powerful things you can do is use your body to protect others.

  1. TELLING US HOW MUCH YOU LOVE JERK CHICKEN AND OBAMA ISN'T GOING TO CUT IT

Yes, Black people also eat lunch, and it's great we have that in common. But if you can't see past what we can provide for you, then it's best to sit this one out because white guilt hinders progress. Plus, you can't vote for Obama a third time, so allow it please.

  1. DON'T SPEAK ABOUT YOUR WHITE GUILT

I'm baffled that you've only just discovered racism is a thing in the past week, but telling Black people how you've been directly complicit in racism is extremely harmful. Black people already take on enough emotional labour every day – be a babe and don't add to it.

  1. IF YOU'RE GOING TO SHARE A PHOTO OF A BLACK CELEBRITY AT A PROTEST, MAKE SURE IT'S THEM

In one of the most awkward blunders this week, the Independent shared a photo of someone they thought was Stormzy (it wasn't). Black people do not all look the same and, besides, he's one of the most recognisable rap artists in the UK and also a million feet tall.

  1. DON'T SHARE FOOTAGE OF POLICE OFFICERS BEING PEACEFUL

Nope. Nope. Nope. We're not congratulating the police for doing the absolute bare minimum and not killing us. If you support police officers, and therefore the institution of policing, you're at the wrong protest, my love.

  1. DON'T SAY 'ALL LIVES MATTER'

If All Lives Matter, there wouldn't be any systematic racism or a disproportionate number of murders by the state. It erases the status quo put in place long before we were born – conditions that ensure that white lives are prioritised and matter more than others, with Black people at the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy.

  1. DON'T STAY SILENT WHILE PROFITING FROM BLACKNESS

If you have a career or profit from Black culture and labour in any way (spoiler alert: we all do), and you've stayed silent at a time when #BLM has been trending, it's time for serious self-reflection.

  1. SHARE RESOURCES YOU'VE ACTUALLY READ

We know when someone hasn't read something they've shared. You can quote Angela Davis and James Baldwin till the cows come home, but if you haven't engaged with it, you’ll be doing more harm than good. It takes time to process the information, especially if it's new to you. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know something and educating yourself. No one is born a revolutionary icon.

  1. AVOID BEING GENERALLY CLAPPED, PLEASE

Absolutely none of that please, hun.

  1. DON'T CO-OPT PROTEST AS AN AESTHETIC

When you do this, you're speaking over Black people who are constantly erased from social justice movements. Please don't gentrify #BLM like you have other physical and online spaces. This is not the time to update your socials with your newfound interest in anti-racist discourse.

  1. YOUR SUPPORT SHOULDN'T BE CONDITIONAL

If your support is based upon if you like someone or not, you do not support Black Lives Matter.

  1. DON'T DO 'WHATABOUTME-ISM'

Just no. Unless it's about the disproportionately high murders of Black trans people and the erasure of the violence faced by them, be quiet. Once that's sorted, we can talk about your foolish request to have the "right" to order jerk chicken in a Jamaican accent.

Photo: Chris Bethell

  1. STOP COMPARING THE USE OF POLICE HORSES TO THE KILLING OF BLACK PEOPLE

You're sounding like a right Britta, and it's not a good colour on you, babes.

  1. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT THE TIME FOR BANTS

We all love a good meme, but show some consideration for those on your timeline and around you. Black death is not funny.

  1. DON'T MOVE MAD LIKE DAVID GUETTA

I'm sure by now you've seen the video of David Guetta's mash-up of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. If not, it's exactly what you think it is: pure shite. Under no circumstances must this be repeated.

  1. DON'T EXPECT TO BE CONGRATULATED FOR REALISING WE LIVE IN A RACIST SOCIETY

I've been Black my entire life, I know society is racist. If in big big 2020 you've only just realised racism is ingrained and systematic and not just that time you saw little kids on the playground being called slurs, politicians being openly anti-Black, the dehumanising treatment of the Windrush generation, the Grenfell fire, the horrors of Yarl's Wood and, you know, Black people speaking about their experiences, you won't be thanked for realising we're human.

  1. ANTI-RACISM EFFORTS NEED TO EXTEND TO YOUR PLACE OF WORK, SCHOOL AND EVERY SOCIAL SITUATION

Systematic racism is sustained through power. If you notice someone is being passed over for opportunities that they're best suited for, unfairly discriminated against and excluded, speak up and share the burden of dismantling systems of oppression. This includes giving up your privilege and demanding that Black people and people of colour are treated fairly and paid accordingly.

  1. UNDERSTAND POLICE REFORM DOESN'T WORK

The police is an institution sustained through the brutality of Black and Brown bodies. Reforms are futile and suggest that police brutality is fixable. It isn't. The entire system is inherently violent and has its origins in slavery, in ensuring that enslaved Black people could not escape from their masters. We need to throw the entire system away.

  1. DON'T SAY 'THE UK IS NOT AS BAD AS THE US – CALM DOWN'

The UK has perfected racism. So much so that generations of people of colour have been gaslighted into thinking it's covert when it's very much blatant. Guns may not be widely used here, but excessive force, state violence and systemic racism still exists. Colonial attitudes are ever-changing and have morphed to match the times, so they've become normalised. The best way to understand this is to educate yourself. You know, with those resources you keep sharing on your Insta story.

  1. STOP SHARING VIDEOS OF BLACK PEOPLE BEING MURDERED BY POLICE

Black people live with both their individual and collective trauma. Sharing videos not only further desensitises white people to the violence we are subjected to, but harms us psychologically. Mental health support is hard enough to access given we already have to navigate racism in the healthcare system.

  1. DON'T WRITE EMPTY SELF-CONGRATULATORY ESSAYS

In the past week, white people have become experts in self-congratulatory multi-paragraph social media posts. This isn't about you – it's about what you can do to support and what needs to change. We need you to show up and show solidarity, but not to centre yourselves. We've successfully almost ended the trend of open letters, now let's do the same with these condescending vapid posts.

  1. THIS LAST ONE IS FOR BLACK PEOPLE

Yes, some of the white people attending will be peng, and currently the bar is so, so low when it comes to allyship, but breathe and think to yourself: 'What would my ancestors do?'

@yewandeadeniran