by CarmenLeah Ascencio
You might be wondering why an article on POC solidarity in personal relationships is in my column on POC healing and wellness. It’s very simple, really. We often get our primary support in intimate relationships. If we don’t feel safe and supported in them, we can’t do the work necessary to heal and be healthy.
I am a non-Black Latina partnered with a Black woman. The night Michael Brown was murdered by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, my partner was glued to her Twitter account, raising her voice about the injustice, conversing with other black people, and poring over the news. At the time, she and I had an ongoing conflict about her Twitter addiction. Late into the evening, when I saw that she was still on Twitter, I became annoyed and asked when she was going to get offline. After some disagreement, she burst into tears. She expressed deep upset at my lack of consideration for her need to be in connection with other Black people at that moment. ¡Ay, que pendeja yo fui! I was centering my feelings over her very real experiences of oppression, adding to her distress and denying her the support she needed at such an enraging and painful time. And that, my non-Black POC friends, isn’t what POC solidarity in love looks like.
Non-black POC in relationships with Black people have a responsibility to figure out the best way to act in solidarity with our partners and friends. This responsibility shouldn’t be work, but rather an effort arising from love. If we aren’t down to figure this out, then we shouldn’t get involved with Black folks who are already taking a risk in loving someone who does not understand what it’s like to live with the often-dangerous reality of being Black (and queer or trans) in this country.
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To help us all out, including myself, I’ve compiled a short list of some basic places to start as non-Black POC trying to act in solidarity and provide support to the Black people we are in relationships with:
- Offer concrete support and take care. When shit is going down and your partner or friend is hurting because of things like police brutality against Black people, ask what you can do for them. If they aren’t sure, start with the simple acts of caring. Cook for them, run errands they’re too upset or pre-occupied to do, massage their shoulders, buy their favorite treat – whatever caring acts you can think of so your partner or friend can focus on getting the support they need and organizing whatever action they might want to take.
- Acknowledge when you fuck up and don’t do it again. You’re probably gonna mess up at least once when it comes to missing something important as a non-Black POC in a relationship with a Black person. When your partner or friend tells you that you messed up or don’t understand something pertaining to their racial experience, don’t get defensive and give a bunch of justifications for your mistake. Listen to them and own your error. More importantly, don’t do it again. Acknowledging you messed up isn’t worth much if you don’t change your behavior. After the Twitter Incident with my partner, I apologized, understood why centering my feelings right then wasn’t cool, and have not made the mistake again.
- Don’t make it about you when it isn’t. Don’t get your feelings hurt if your partner or friend doesn’t want to share and be vulnerable with you about the pain they experience related to living with the legacy and current reality of being Black in the U.S. After watching 12 Years A Slave, although we both were in tears, my partner’s tears were from a different experience than mine. As much as I wanted to comfort her, she expressed the need to have that kind of experience with other Black people. Of course. Makes total sense and that need didn’t have anything to do with me.
- Give time and space. Know that your partner or friend may need their own time and space with other Black folks without you, especially when it comes to discussing the oppression Black people face (but not only then). Make sure to be supportive and understanding of this. Never make this important time difficult for them to have.
- Engage from a place of not knowing. As much as non-Black POC might think we understand, we don’t experience racism in the same ways Black people do. As enraging as police brutality against Black people is to me, I do not experience this rage the same way my partner does. I cannot, because I have no idea what it is like to be Black. Discuss anti-black oppression from the stance that you don’t know in the same way your partner or friend does. Listen carefully without assuming you know what they are talking about. As their partner and primary support, or their close friend, you should never be someone they experience frustration with when speaking about their experience as a Black person.
- If you do activist work together, step back if the issue pertains to anti-black oppression. Don’t hold the megaphone, don’t be at the front of the march, don’t speak more than they do, don’t act like anti-black oppression is the same as the oppression you face as a non-Black POC, and stay home if they want to organize Black-only direct actions. Ask how you can play a supportive role and check in to make sure any actions you take independently are helpful to them.
- Remember, you still benefit from anti-blackness. Even though you love your partner or friend, you still benefit from and are complicit in anti-blackness. Take action to push back against the privilege you have because of this. For example, maybe you want your partner to come to your majority white or non-black POC work party, social gathering or family event, but they feel uncomfortable in a setting without any other Black people, especially right now. Think about the lack of discomfort you might feel in these spaces due to your non-black race privilege, understand your partner’s needs and be ok with them sitting certain events out regardless of how much you want their company.
- Understand that you don’t get a pass. Dating/loving/partnering with a Black person doesn’t get you off the hook on examining and doing something about anti-blackness, including your own. Yes, you can be with a Black person and have Black friends and still hold anti-black ideas. Being with a Black person doesn’t absolve you from doing the work to understand and challenge anti-black oppression, in yourself and in the world.
This is not a comprehensive list, but are some basic actions that non-Black POC can take to be in solidarity with our Black partners and friends; not just for the struggle, but for the health and well-being of the people we love. ¡Pa’Lante!
CarmenLeah Ascencio a public health social worker, community theatre facilitator, trauma-sensitive yoga instructor, educator and proud Boricua 2nd generation queer femme. She is currently the director of Get Free, a Black Girl Dangerous program, and is the creator of Freedom Labor Love, a consultancy business that helps organizations and schools be trauma informed, emotionally healthy and inspired social change environments. She facilitates BGD Get Free workshops at organizations and schools. To find out about booking CarmenLeah, go here.
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