Allyship Tips – 1: Educate Yourself
By Barry Johnson-Smith, Washington County
Hello, my name is Barry Johnson-Smith. I am a 24-year-old Black male who has recently moved to Hillsboro from Lawrenceville, Georgia. I desire to be more involved with the Washington County Democratic Party. Part of my contribution to the WashCo Dems is writing a three-part series about allyship with a focus on being allies for Black people, especially in the local area.
I know Washington County is mostly liberal and the citizens pride themselves in being supportive of all people from different backgrounds. It surprised me to see a lot of the stores and households having BlackLivesMatter signs presented publicly. It was refreshing to see, but I also had reservations. I thought how many of these people actually take action to support Black people beyond a hashtag or a sign?
Allyship is using your privilege identity to advocate for and support members of a marginalized community.
Being an ally for Black people is helping us address the issues that have plagued us by a society designed to oppress us. However, I do know people have apprehension about practicing allyship. Some people do know not how to be allies and are afraid if they try to help they might do more harm than good. I totally understand.
That is why I am creating this blog series of tips – to help well-intentioned people support the Oregon Black Community in an actionable way.
Tip 1: Educate Yourself
Before a doctor helps a patient, they have to know a little bit more about the person and their medical history. The same goes for allyship. Potential allies should educate themselves on a community’s history, culture and issues.
If you do not educate yourself you could potentially cause harm when advocating for a group. In the age of the internet, there are so many online resources on Black history. In addition, you can go to your local library and talk to the librarian for suggestions.
Potential allies have to make sure they are doing research that includes Black history in Oregon.
Even though many Black people can have shared experiences due to our race, our culture and history vary from region to region. Potential allies should not assume the experience that black people have in Oregon is the same as black people in Georgia. Focusing on Black history in Oregon will help potential allies be more effective in supporting the local Black community.
Aside from increasing education through the internet and literature, there are events and activities that happen throughout the year (especially this month) that will help you learn more about Oregon’s Black culture and history. I personally went on a couple of walking tours that told the history of the city of Vanport and Black people living on Mississippi Ave and Alberta Street in Portland.
Beyond learning history, these events will provide an opportunity to engage with Black Oregonians. Nothing’s better than getting first-hand information about a community’s history, and hopefully you can build new friendships in the process.
Potential allies are not entitled to Black people educating them if they ask.
We all are not historians of our own history, and it can be frustrating when people expect us to be. Even though allies’ intentions are pure, some Black people do not want an ally’s help in their struggle at the moment or at all. Black people have been resilient for over 400 years and have come so far despite all they face. Black people do not need a savior. Potential allies need to come across as friends, neighbors, coworkers who care, want to learn, and are willing to assist if the community asks for it.
Below are links that provide information on Black History of Oregon as well as Black History Month events that are happening in the area. These links will be a great start on a potential ally’s journey in supporting the Black community. The journey is never-ending as you can always learn more about a community and its enriched culture. Potential allies engaging with a community with a base of background knowledge shows they are invested and interested in the community, and the people of the community will be more willing to teach them and ask them for help.
This is Part 1 of Allyship Tips, and in Part 2 I will discuss how allies can hold themselves and others accountable to their own racial unconscious bias and microaggressions. Thanks for reading!