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What It Really Means to Support Your Black Friends

Do You Have a Black Friend or Do You Just Know a Black Person?

Group of multiracial females entering fitness studio. Smiling women walking through a doorway in dance class.

One of greatest lessons to be learned from 2020 is that our humanity is inextricably related, intertwined, and dependent upon each other for survival. In what has proven to be an unexpected year for all of us, it should be no surprise that nothing surprises us anymore. In case you haven't noticed, your Black friends are exhausted, depleted, and simply worn out. Your Black friends need more than your support via a social media post, or the stereotypical, "I have a Black friend," so I'm exempt from the racism trope. Your Black friends need you to be present, showing up for them, even when #BlackLivesMatter is no longer trending.

"While the country was ordered to observe mandatory social distancing, many of us couldn't because again, due to systemic racism, we were on the front lines serving as essential workers and caregivers."

Your Black friends began the year processing the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, followed by the news of a global pandemic, in which we saw COVID-19 disproportionately impact our community, resulting in Black bodies as casualties of systemic racism. While the country was ordered to observe mandatory social distancing, many of us couldn't because again, due to systemic racism, we were on the front lines serving as essential workers and caregivers. When the world erupted in fire illuminating centuries of racial injustice and state sanctioned violence with the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, we were devastated by the reality that we, too, could become another hashtag simply because of the skin that we live in. Adding to the list of continual blows our community faced was the untimely death of our Black superhero, both on and off screen, Chadwick Boseman. The devastating loss of Boseman, our beloved Black Panther, has us in a perpetual state of mourning the death of another Black man.

We watched in disbelief that after all of these years, our white friends, colleagues and sometimes family members finally came to a realisation of what we had been screaming since 2013 after the murder of Trayvon Martin: Black Lives Matter. Fast-forward months later with racial injustice in the lexicon, however, we are still crying out, Protect Black Women, with the miscarriage of justice given the outcome of the Breonna Taylor case, in which to date justice hasn't been served, with no one held responsible for her death. The wall of the neighbouring apartment received more justice than Breonna's life.

With just over a month left in 2020, we've been to the mountain top and back surviving what was arguably the most important presidential election of our lifetime, where Black voter suppression was as palpable as it was during the Civil Rights Movement. To date, Black voter suppression continues with the concerted efforts of politicians in Michigan refusing to certify the ballots of counties with predominantly Black voters. Your Black friends have been tested and we have no more patience to give or grace to extend.

So, you have a Black friend, now what?

We know that being silent and complicit will not ignite change, so how will your activism and support move beyond your comfort zone of the black square on Instagram? How will you view this movement as an opportunity to get involved in what's happening, holding yourself accountable. No more standing on the sidelines, we need you to get proximate to your Black friends.

"Change isn't silent, and if true change is to happen it will mean that white people will have to view racism as a problem they have ownership in fixing as opposed to an issue that Black people experience."

This means getting up close and personal to the issues that are impacting the Black community and working diligently in your sphere of influence to dismantle systems that hoard power and continually perpetuate racial hierarchies and dominance. Put the reading lists down and begin inward, examining your biases and what influences your decision making. It means doing the real work — a commitment, an action, a choice, to disrupt and interrupt the axis of power and privilege. It means holding yourself accountable so that you don't revert back to norms, behaviours, and ideas that are cyclical and counter intuitive to justice. Change isn't silent, and if true change is to happen it will mean that white people will have to view racism as a problem they have ownership in fixing as opposed to an issue that Black people experience.

As we continue to navigate such unprecedented and challenging times, we must remember that our humanity is a shared experience. How will you show up for Black people? Things will only change if you act with a sense of urgency and fervour. What will we do differently that lays the foundation for our future and the future of the next generation who are watching to see how we face the challenge of dismantling racism beginning by extending proximity. Proximity benevolently demands us to create space, opportunity, and time to be close to each other in an effort to build relationships and community with each other.

In order to achieve this, you have to get close. Proximity won't be easy. It will be uncomfortable, messy, emotional, and hard. But we can no longer accept being complicit as normal. We are in need of a new system that is rooted in justice, where we all can thrive, not in spite of, but because of who we are. It begins by getting proximate to stories, narratives and experiences that differ from our own.

No better time than the present for us to lean into discomfort, get proximate and build the capacity to reimagine a humanity that empowers each of us to fight for the justice and liberation of others. None of us are free until we all are free. Our collective humanity hangs in the balance as we deepen our understanding of what it means to extend care, dignity and humanity to your Black friends.

Get proximate. We are who've been waiting for. It's about time we show up and show out!

Image Source: Getty / Luis Alvarez
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