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- Activist and executive director of Gathering for Justice
Over the last 11 months, we’ve been hit with a pandemic, political unrest and widespread racial injustice — and it’s changed our world as we know it. Amid the tumult, there have been silver linings we can’t ignore, like the countless creators who are using their platforms to promote equality, anti-racism education, and ultimately, allyship.
Back in May after the lives of George Floyd and Breyonna Taylor were tragically taken as a result of police violence, people all over the world came forward to say: Enough is enough. The Black Lives Matter movement did more than highlight the pressing need for anti-racism practices. It also made folks on social media feel more comfortable discussing seemingly taboo topics, such as mental health, LGBTQ rights, food insecurity and chronic illnesses.
Since the racial injustice movement was reignited earlier this year, many influencers have pivoted to activism on Instagram as a form of effective allyship — and they’re encouraging their followers to join them in learning and unlearning.
To further anti-racism efforts and support people on their journeys, Yahoo’s Allyship Pledge is a six-month program in partnership with Kindred and GOOD WORX that brings together influential experts, activists and creators to discuss urgent issues involving race in America, and creates actionable tools for Allyship.
Here, we spoke with five influencers from different backgrounds about what allyship means to them, the proactive steps they’ve taken to create a more inclusive society and much more.
Civil and human rights activist Carmen Perez was drawn to activism after witnessing and experiencing violence within her family, community and from state systems. “I grew up in a Chicano family — parents are farmworkers in Oxnard, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and predominantly low-income community in Southern California, which gave me such a unique experience that has led to how I show up in the world,” she says. “Gaining the opportunity to travel internationally as a conflict mediator and peace ambassador with Barrios Unidos, I listened to the experiences of Afro-descendants in Venezuela, Cuba and also Germany, and I have seen how manifestations of anti-Blackness, like police harassment, racialized exploitation and social exclusion, are a problem without borders.”
Over the years, Perez has led non-violent protests and engaged in constant communication with people about the deep-rooted racism in our country. “Instead of becoming confrontational, I lean into criticism and try to understand what I can do better,” she says. “I like to say it’s about ‘meeting people where they’re at and championing them to our cause.’”
Perez’s mentor, Harry Belafonte, has been a huge influence on her allyship journey. “He emphasized having a broader understanding of race outside of the U.S., and its roots in the systemic legacy of imperialism,” she says. “I am constantly seeking the tools I need to effectively deconstruct race and eradicate anti-Blackness within my own organization, my own community and my life — and that is how I am able to fight it worldwide.”
At the end of the day, Perez believes that when Black people are truly free, our world will finally be free of many other manifestations of hate that deny people their full humanity. She concludes: “It is with that in my heart that I work towards a more inclusive society.”
“Coming from the background that I did, conversations about race or inequality weren’t had growing up because they were issues that didn’t affect my family,” says athlete, model and writer Haley Videckis, who has nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram. “I understand that many people are unaware and not properly educated by our school systems on how to unravel and combat the inequity engrained in our social structures, but recognizing the importance of education, I now have the patience to reach a deeper understanding and hope to effectuate change on a large scale.”
To Videckis, the Yahoo Allyship Pledge means that she’s committed to using her platform to share knowledge and tools that combat racism and systemic equality in our country. “White allies have a responsibility to show up for people of color and that begins by listening to Black and brown voices,” she says. “Collectively, influencers and creators have the power to shape the conversation of race and advance social justice actions, and by working together and receiving the messages outside of our own experiences, allyship can strengthen activism.”
Stylist Eric Himel grew up believing that inequality is one of the most profound issues in our world — and still believes this to be true today. “Anything I can do to change that I feel is my responsibility,” he says. “So far, I’ve been reading, asking questions, listening and really making a concerted effort to become more informed and change behaviors.”
Through taking the Yahoo Allyship Pledge, Himel hopes to amass as much knowledge as he can so that he’s able to have more informed discussions about racism with others. “I want to take what I learn — including empathy from first-hand experiences — and spread it to many, many people,” he says.
For drag queen and LGBTQ influencer Brita Filter, taking the Yahoo Allyship Pledge is about active listening and being held accountable in order to further the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I am listening more to my friends in the Black community and speaking out when I see injustices,” she says. “I think it’s important to listen to their stories to help further their messages — and while it’s been hard because of the pandemic, social media is a very powerful tool, and using my platform to make sure those voices are heard is very important to me.”
The most difficult aspect so far for Filter has been seeing people completely deny the Black Lives Matter movement. “It hurts me to see that they don’t understand the suffering that Black individuals have faced because of individual and institutional racism,” she says. “I wish people would listen more instead of just denying that it doesn’t exist.”
Still, she’s determined to use her influence as a catalyst for change. “I haven’t been able to march because of the pandemic, but I have used my platform as a drag queen to host online events that have raised thousands of dollars for non-profit Black Lives Matter groups,” she says. “I know how it feels to be excluded from society because of my sexual orientation and the color of my skin, and I want to do whatever I can to make sure that other people don’t feel that way.”
“To me, allyship can be performative,” says author, recovery advocate and LGBTQIA rights activist Ryan J. Hampton. “Focusing on myself is counterproductive when it comes to anti-racism work — this pledge is an acknowledgment of how vital it is to center marginalized voices, especially in the addiction recovery community, where silence equals death.”
As a person in recovery from addiction, many of Hampton’s efforts are to help people in the recovery community, as he says there are few resources and opportunities to learn about topics like racial injustice and prison reform. “The non-profits I help lead, Voices Project and the Recovery Advocacy Project, organize Mobilize Recovery: an annual conference that helps recovery advocates gain the tools they need to build advocacy networks in their own regions,” he says. “The event is attended by hundreds of grassroots advocates who attend workshops on topics like racial justice, LGBTQ equality and criminal justice reform.”
By taking the Yahoo Allyship Pledge, Hampton says he ultimately hopes to inspire people to listen, learn and uplift marginalized voices. “It's easy to say ‘yes’ to people who look and sound like us; I hope that, by encouraging diversity and especially centering BIPOC voices in organizing spaces, we can build a movement that genuinely serves and empowers all of us. Until every single person has access to the same resources — and experiences the same absence of barriers — we aren't equal. Diversity isn't about erasing differences. It's about celebrating them.”
Resources to learn more about allyship:
Yahoo’s Black Lives Matter Hub: for resources, news, links and videos
Whitney Plantation: educates the public about the history of slavery and its legacies.
Color of Change For hands-on actions you can take for social justice.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): to understand current issues and what’s at stake.
Race Forward: to hear more on the realities of systemic racism
Anti-Racism Daily: Daily actions to dismantle white supremacy.
The Body is Not An Apology: international movement that fosters global, radical, unapologetic self love which translates to radical human love and action in service toward a more just, equitable and compassionate world.
The Langston League: “Decolonized” Black history series for middle school students