According to Dr. David Campt, founder of the White Ally Toolkit, 45% of white Americans believe that race is a significant problem in this country, yet a large proportion of these anti-racist allies are unsure of how to help right this systemic wrong. My best suggestion to all allies (including myself) at Clemson University and beyond is to educate ourselves about black history and the ways that racism still exists in the very structures that make up American and global society. Something extremely important that all well-meaning white allies need to recognize is that people of color are not responsible for this education. Ultimately, it is ourselves who need to take on the burden of learning about, discussing and critiquing racism. It’s time for us to learn how to be better allies, and there is no better time to do that than this year’s Black History Month.
Black History Month at Clemson ushers in a variety of educational and recreational events on campus that everyone should experience. Titled “Now They See Us: A New Era,” this month’s programming from the Harvey and Lucinda Gantt Multicultural Center features two exhibitions. One is Dr. Rhondda Thomas’s “Call My Name” project bringing to light the until-recently erased history of African-American people in Clemson’s history. The other is “Legacies of Protest: From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter,” which celebrates and honors the lives of people who lost their lives to racial violence. Other events Black History Month events here on campus include the dialogue event “Red, Black, and Blue” which will feature discussions centered on black candidates across the political spectrum in this year’s election. Finally, the keynote speaker will be Michael Sam, the first openly gay black man to play in the NFL.
Moving out of Clemson and onto a national front, we as allies need to continue to be critical of and decolonize the systemic racism that we have the privilege of being able to ignore. We need to pay attention to national and international events that impact people of color and take a stand against injustice. Luckily, there are many organizations working to report on racial injustice and to create a more equitable future. We can look to these groups for news, information and action.We should support them with our time, donations or other resources if we are able. A sample of specific organizations who do important work in black advocacy include the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Girls Code, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Trayvon Martin Foundation, Black Lives Matter, the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, the NAACP and the National Urban League.
While learning, it is extremely important for us to recognize that people of color with intersecting marginalized identities face even more oppression and erasure. Therefore, we also need to research intersectional black history and figures, both of which tend to face the most historic erasure due to the intersection of oppression. Some great intersectional black activists to research this month include Jazzie Collins, Marsha P. Johnson and Audre Lorde. Alongside researching this history, we must also support groups for intersectional minorities. Some great national-level groups to be aware of include the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the National Black Disability Coalition, the Center for Black Equity and the Trans Women of Color Collective. On Clemson’s campus, the Clemson Queer Students of Color Association (CQSCA) focuses on protecting and celebrating the identities of all Clemson students of color who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
Yet, most importantly, the best way to be an ally is to extend our allyship beyond Black History Month. We need to continue to educate ourselves and take a stand against racism throughout the year. Ultimately, the history and struggles being honored during Black History Month are still occurring, and as such, they should be paid attention to, not just for the shortest month of the year and not just for when it is convenient for us, but for every month and every day of every year. We all need to step up, to stop being silent bystanders when racial issues continue to plague this nation and Clemson’s campus. While Black History Month can offer a great stepping stone, it absolutely should not be the only step that allies take in recognizing historic and current struggles faced by people of color at Clemson, in the United States and throughout the world.