How to make a difference in the fight against racism and injustice | Arwa Mahdawi

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the most important thing is to do something – no matter how small

Helicopters have been circling overhead for hours. I can hear protesters chanting as they march up the street. Sirens have been blaring all evening. I am writing this in New York City, shortly before an overnight curfew is about to go into effect, something that hasn’t happened since 1943, when the mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, imposed a curfew to stop protests in Harlem.

The US feels like a war zone – and I feel like a useless bystander. Like many people, I have spent the past few days trying to figure out how I can be most helpful and feeling guilty that I am not doing enough. Should I join protests? Should I donate money? Should I petition elected officials? What is the most effective way to make a difference in the fight against systemic racism? What is genuinely helpful and what is performative allyship?

It is easy to feel helpless and confused – but it is also important to remember that we can all be useful. Those who are able-bodied and benefit from white privilege might think about using that privilege, as some activists have done, to form a barrier to between the police and black protesters. Those with financial means can donate to protester bail funds and social justice organisations. Those with racist relatives and ignorant friends can try to educate those people instead of avoiding difficult conversations. Don’t just make jokes about your racist uncle; talk to him. Silence is complicity.

It is also important that those of us who are non-black people of colour think about the ways in which we benefit from and contribute to structural racism. One police officer who stood by as his colleague knelt on Floyd’s neck until he became unresponsive was Asian American. There is a lot of anti-black racism among minority communities. It is important that we don’t lump all our experiences together, but that we think specifically about the problem of anti-blackness.

Ultimately, it is important that we do something, no matter how small. We must listen to the people most affected by systemic injustice and educate ourselves: there are plenty of resources out there on how to make a difference. Barack Obama, for example, shared advice on concrete actions you can take to make this moment a “turning point”. We must recognise that this is an ongoing struggle, not a trending issue. Don’t just post a black square on your Instagram or #BlackLivesMatter on your Facebook page and be done with it. When these protests fade from the news – which they will – we need to be as concerned about inequality and injustice as we are now.

  • Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist


Arwa Mahdawi

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