It’s been four months since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Four months since the Third Precinct building of the Minneapolis Police Department was set on fire. Four months since international anti-police violence protests erupted. People of all races across the globe were paying attention. They were uniting to stand with Black people and call for an end to racist and violent policing worldwide. People were sharing books, films, and podcasts to help unlearn internalized anti-Black racism. They were boosting donation funds and links to petitions. They were sharing simple, bite-sized graphics about complex issues to help educate one another on systemic racism. You couldn’t scroll through Twitter or Instagram without seeing a video of the police brutalizing protesters. Four months ago, the world was watching. Now, they’ve turned away, returning to their old practices.
Many people still have “BLM” and “All Black Lives Matter” in their social media bios. We now have “Black Lives Matter” painted on various streets across the country. U.S. representatives went on national television clad in kente cloth. Despite these acts of solidarity, non-Black people are regressing as if these past four months haven’t happened at all. This isn’t solidarity—this is performance. It was all an act. And I hate to admit it, but this faux solidarity doesn’t surprise me in the least. Honestly, I was expecting this to happen. Non-Black people have successfully turned Black Lives Matter into a personality trait that can be weaponized against Black people whenever they see fit.
On Twitter, I’ve seen people I follow—Black people—be ruthlessly attacked with misogynistic and racist remarks by self-proclaimed allies of all races. People with “Black Lives Matter” in their social media bios. I saw a white South American mutual—someone I’d come to consider my friend—spend an entire evening, with the help of her friends, attacking Black Americans for our way of speaking. She was policing our words, our language. She then finished it off by saying that it wasn’t fair that she was forced to care about BLM. This particular comment stung. No one forced her to care about BLM. No one forced her to post about BLM. I naïvely assumed she was posting about it because she genuinely cared about our struggle—a struggle that many seem to forget is worldwide and not solely American. I had a stomach-churning realization: many people who were posting during the protests were only doing so because they felt that they had to, not because they genuinely cared.
A week later, in response to the Emmy nominations, many Latino actors and viewers were rightfully criticizing the Television Academy for its blatant exclusion. A new issue arose, however, when they proceeded to throw Black actors and people under the bus. John Leguizamo shared an article that was worded in a way to purposely exclude Jharrel Jerome, who was the first Afro-Latino to win an acting Emmy for his role in When They See Us—a limited series in which Leguizamo also starred.
I proceeded to get into an argument with a Latina woman on Twitter—another self-identified ally—because of this. She refused to listen to me and told me I failed to understand her intent. But what “allies” fail to understand is that intent doesn’t matter. What truly matters is execution. If you intend to do or say something and it is poorly executed, that’s on you, not the Black community. If a Black person calls you out for what you said, it’s your job as an ally to amend your statement and check your anti-Black sentiment. Instead, she told me that I simply didn’t want to understand her statement and that she was an ally, so obviously she was immune from contributing to anti-Black racism. That belief, in and of itself, was truly irksome. Instead of taking responsibility for her harmful statements, she weaponized BLM against me. She shifted the blame back onto myself. That is harmful and just as bad as any other form of racism, whether people want to admit it or not.
Black Lives Matter isn’t a personality trait or a costume that one can take on and off. It is a struggle that never ends. If you call yourself an ally and then proceed to weaponize BLM and allyship against Black people, you aren’t an ally. You aren’t a friend of the Black community. You don’t have the right, nor the range, to call yourself one. I would rather have your unabashed hatred than your performative allyship. Over these past four months, many people have donned the costume of an ally to evade criticism while still being racist to Black people. BLM being injected into the mainstream has led to its bastardization. This happened with Martin Luther King Jr; it happened to the civil rights movement of the 1960s as well. It has happened over and over again. And for that, I will always be angry.
By Sydney Paolercio
Illustration by Emily Lipstein for Vice