George Floyd Mural

Allyship is More Than Acknowledging Privilege

The past few months have been draining. In the past week alone, I have gone through feelings of anger and sadness watching those who look like me protest yet again for basic human rights and empathy. I feel like a boxer who has been pinned to the ropes in the second round of a twelve round match and the referee refuses to signal for the bell to be rung.

Living through a pandemic, one that is killing the elderly and Black people at an alarming rate, has been yet another lesson in hypocrisy and privilege. A fact that has been amplified when looking at both the push to reopen countries and the deaths of Ahmed Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Toronto’s own Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

In the span of a few short weeks, politicians in America justify armed civilians breaking quarantine protocol to demand barbershops and garden stores reopen. A hairdresser spent one night in jail and gets treated like a celebrity for defying the law; and Toronto police officers decide to “educate” rather than ticket thousands of non-social distancing individuals who congregated in a local park like they were waiting for Coachella to start. The common thread is that these individuals were predominantly White.

On the flip side, studies are showing that Black communities are facing even stricter policing during the pandemic. One report stated that individuals of colour are more likely to be arrested for both not wearing a mask and for wearing a mask during the pandemic compared to their white counterparts. I also watched as pundits tried to use video footage of Aubrey’s previous encounters with the police to raise suspicion of his character while explaining why he was being gunned down by a private citizen.

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This hypocrisy is nothing new of course, and people of colour have been complaining about the lack of equality for years. So why is the world suddenly ready to listen? Is it that Covid-19 has shown that our fragile social hierarchy was built on a house of cards? Is it the seven days and counting of protests demanding justice for George Floyd? Was it when prominent businesses like Target went up in flames? Perhaps a combination of all three, though I think it is mostly the latter.

Honestly, I was not going to write anything about the protests sweeping America and Canada. This was not because I do not have plenty of thoughts on the issue, but simply because it is too painful and exhausting. Frankly, I am tired of being the black whisperer for those who frequently try and tell me things are not that bad. The same individuals who clutch their performative pearls at the mere mention of racism in Canada, ignoring the country’s lengthy issues with Indigenous, Black and other minority communities, but remain silent when injustice is staring them in the face.

As a Black man growing up in Toronto, I have been told time and time again that Canada is nothing like the United States. I have spent my entire life trying to live up to the standards of what it meant to be a good citizen. I kept my head down, got my degree, never rocked the boat so to speak, and tried my best to represent the entire Black community with grace when frequently placed in situations where I was the only person of colour in the room.

The funny thing is, none of that has stopped clerks from routinely following me around in stores like a criminal or encounters with the police from being tense. It did not curb strangers from telling my then three-year-old son that his speed will help him when the cops are chasing him when he is older or halt the years of microaggressions endured. Being within the film community has further shown the type of voices who get amplified, regardless of their toxicity, and those whose are marginalized.

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I would love to say that my experiences are unique, but they are all too common. One just needs to listen to Tyrone Edwards’ tearfully speak about his experiences on The Social for proof of this. While the nature of inequality in America and Canada may be approached differently, the ideologies are still the same. You can shrug it off by saying “that’s life, and it is not always fair”, but consider who is often on the losing end of that disparity.

So why even bother to write some thoughts on this? After all this is a website that looks at the world through the lens of films, television shows and video games.

Well, there are times when reality is bigger and more important than escapism. If you are not paying attention to what is going on with the protests, it is time to start. For those declaring allyship, or better yet partnership, it is time to step your game up. This does not mean you have to march in the streets per say, as there are many ways of showing support. However, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I checked in on the Black individuals in my life (i.e. friends, family, staff, co-workers) to see how they are holding up? If not, why?
  • Rather than asking Black individuals for guidance, have I taken it upon myself to seek out books, films, and/or comics that highlight various facets of the Black experience? If not, why?
  • Was I more outraged by the looting than the video of George Floyd lying on the ground with a knee on his throat? If so, why?
  • Am I more afraid of speaking out when I see injustice for fear of saying the wrong thing, and thus potentially being labelled a racist? If so, why?
  • As an active participant on Film Twitter, have I put in as much effort amplifying films made by marginalized voices as I have debating the Marvel Cinematic Universe versus the DC Extended Universe? If not, why?
  • As a parent, do I have child friendly books that highlight prominent Black figures and/or talk about injustice in a kid friendly way? If not, why?

This is not the time for bland NFL-style statements about working to fight injustice without offering any accountable measures. Nor is it enough to share memes about realizing the benefits you have. It is one thing to acknowledge your unchallenged freedoms, but now is the time to put your privilege to good use.

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