PEI

Want to be an ally to black, Indigenous and people of colour? Here's what you need to know

With protesters flooding streets across North America, the death of 46-year-old George Floyd has sparked conversations over what it means to be an ally to black communities.

'Until you're going out of your way to correct things, you're not necessarily a true ally'

BIPOC stands for black, Indigenous, people of colour. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

At first, watching the George Floyd protests unfold brought on a dull, numbing sensation, says Daniel Butterfield. After, there was only enough room for a familiar kind of anger.

"It's a lot of recurring feelings that kind of happen every time we see this kind of injustice," Butterfield said. 

Protests that began last week have grown in size and intensity, spilling over borders and reaching Prince Edward Island, over police brutality and the murder of Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Thousands more in Canada have also taken to the streets to protest racism around the world and to demand answers in the death of 29-year-old Toronto resident Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

The uncertainty, violence and unrest have many non-black Canadians wondering what it means to be an ally to black people, Indigenous people and people of colour (BIPOC). 

'Going out of your way to correct things'

"I see an ally as someone who is actively doing things to support communities who are being underrepresented and mistreated," Butterfield said.

"It's really easy to morally align yourself with what is ... just ... and say you're an ally but until you're going out of your way to correct things, you're not necessarily a true ally."

Even as P.E.I.'s population has changed in recent years, Butterfield said growing up black in a predominately white community was challenging at times. (Submitted by Daniel Butterfield)

Butterfield, a Charlottetown performer who goes by the stage name Vince the Messenger, was born in Toronto, but moved with his family to the Island when he was three.

Even as P.E.I.'s population has changed in recent years, Butterfield said growing up black in a predominately white community was challenging at times.

I heard racial slurs before I knew what they meant – directed toward me.— Daniel Butterfield

"The type of racism that I mostly experience in Charlottetown would be like micro-aggressions or discriminatory things. People assuming certain things about you based on your skin colour, based on the way you talk, the way you look," he said.

"I heard racial slurs before I knew what they meant – directed toward me," he said, "Like the N-word." 

While Butterfield said his experience with racism on P.E.I. has improved, "better isn't enough."

'It's about the little things'

"It's about culture change, it's about changing people's attitude, it's about those subtle jokes that people tell, it's about appropriating cultural aspects," said Sobia Ali-Faisal, co-founder and Pakistani member of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour United for Strength, Home and Relationships or BIPOC USHR.

The group works to provide support and advocacy for people who identify within the Island's BIPOC community.

"It's about the little things that happen almost on a daily basis and challenging those things that lead to a cultural change," she said.

Sobia Ali-Faisal says being an ally to BIPOC communities demands three qualities: openness, humility and a willingness to endure discomfort. (Submitted by Sobia Ali-Faisal)

While joining protests is an important part of being an ally, for these gestures to be meaningful, non-black allies need to make sure the events and protests they attend in solidarity are organized and led by black members of the community, Ali-Faisal said.

But protests, she said, are only one component of allyship.

We can't be everywhere convincing people that we deserve equality.— Daniel Butterfield

"It's about two things," she said. "One: to amplify black voices, not speaking for black people, not speaking over black people but using whatever privilege we have as non-black people to amplify those voices and what they're saying.

"The other component is really to challenge anti-blackness, wherever we see it."

Challenging anti-blackness and racism as a whole, both agree, is part and parcel of being an ally every day.

"We can't be everywhere convincing people that we deserve equality," Butterfield said.

"We can't be at the dinner table where your racist parents are telling you that black people aren't equal. We're not invited to those dinner parties, so you need to be there in our place, evening the playing field."

But Ali-Faisal cautions that doesn't mean speaking for members of the BIPOC community or speaking over them.

Ali-Faisal said most often, being an ally to BIPOC communities demands three qualities: openness, humility and a willingness to endure discomfort.

Discomfort in allyship

"Everyone makes mistakes in the process of allyship," she said. "It's hard to be called out on that and if we respond with defensiveness then that ends our allyship … willing to learn from that discomfort, that is probably one of the most important things because it is not easy."

You can have white privilege but have plenty of other disadvantages in your life.— Daniel Butterfield

Discomfort, Butterfield said, needs to happen for there to be any type of growth.

"When people do feel discomfort they will feel more of an emotional connection to do the right thing, they'll understand why people are protesting, why people are upset, if they can feel discomfort themselves to a certain degree."

Creating 'brave spaces'

Being an ally can also mean standing up in moments of inconvenience, said Omeasoo Wāhpāsiw, an assistant professor of Indigenous history at UPEI and a Cree member of BIPOC USHR.

"I still find it's very easy for people to just walk on by when they think an issue doesn't pertain to them directly," she said.

For Wāhpāsiw, being an ally has meant creating "brave learning spaces" in her classrooms, which has meant encouraging students to welcome discomfort in learning about people, places and history that challenge their belief systems. 

Navigating the world in white skin affords privilege and the advantage of not having to worry about the same things as those in BIPOC communities, Butterfield said.

I'm seeing a lot of learning happening right now.— Sobia Ali-Faisal, BIPOC USHR

"You can have white privilege but have plenty of other disadvantages in your life. You can be below the poverty line, you can have a disability, you could be a member of another marginalized group while still having white privilege," he said.

"All that means is that you don't have to worry about your skin colour affecting you negatively throughout your life."

Being a good ally, he said, means educating yourself on the kinds of privilege you hold and how you can use it to empower marginalized communities.

Ali-Faisal suggests the workbook, Me and White Supremacy as a helpful tool for white people and those seeking to grasp their complicity in racism and how they can challenge white supremacy.

She also suggests connecting with local Black Lives Matter groups or non-profit organizations such as BIPOC USHR and P.E.I.'s Black Cultural Society to strengthen allyship and create a greater sense of community.

"There's a lot of people with a lot of really good intentions. There's a lot of people who are amplifying voices and challenging anti-blackness, there's a lot of people who want to but don't know how to," she said.

"I'm seeing a lot of learning happening right now." 

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About the Author

Sam Juric

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Sam Juric is a digital reporter with CBC Sudbury and can be reached at samantha.juric@cbc.ca.

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