The year 2020 will easily go down in history as one to remember. With a pandemic, sudden losses of celebrities and an ongoing racial reckoning, living through this time places us in the shoes of elders recounting history from our viewpoint. However, more important than the stories are the actions that have been taken to actively deal with the issues of racism and hate. Actions such as the OneUA campaign which is developed and organized by the University of Alabama Student Government Association. OneUA took place from Sept. 21st to Sept. 25th with different events scheduled each day to represent the message of inclusion. SGA Deputy Chief of Staff, Trinity Hunter wrote “How to Be an Effective and True Ally” as part of this message.
Hunter, a sophomore majoring in Public Relations, says the idea for the letter, “How to Be an Effective and True Ally,” came to her after the summer events involving the murder of George Floyd. Chief of Staff Catherine Hayes knew about the letter and asked Hunter if she’d be interested in the letter being used for OneUA. The inclusion of the letter proved beneficial for friends and individuals who wanted to help but weren’t sure about where to begin. For them, the letter served as a stepping stone. “Here’s what you need to do for me to be my friend, to be my support system during times like these when my community is hurting,” says Hunter.
Building upon the steps listed in the letter and enacting them, Hunter noticed friends along with members of the UA community actively trying to engage and learn. “They’ve taken the appropriate steps to learn things themselves, but they’ve also asked me for advice on some things they don’t know, and they say, “Okay, I’ve read about it. I’m getting a better understanding of the issue. Do you mind helping me with making this decision or helping me address this specific situation?” This behavior illustrates the steps to amplify and magnify the voices of students of color and not treat them or their emotions as afterthoughts by speaking over them or lumping them together as a monolith with the exact same thoughts and needs. Acknowledging the varying responses and feelings among students of color, specifically Black students, allows people to learn about their inherent differences as Hunter previously said.
“And I think that is one of the best ways to amplify my voice personally to make me feel celebrated as a Black woman. Is them valuing my opinion in areas where I would have a different level of expertise than they would ever be able to reach, no matter how much they read, no matter how much they go through, just from the sole factor of my skin color.”
Emphasis upon one’s skin color was showcased through the choice for a movie during the OneUA campaign. “The Hate U Give,” a 2018 film focusing on police brutality, was shown on Sept. 22nd. The film struck a nerve with its audience by showing, through a fictional story, the real-life occurrences and effects of police brutality on the Black community. With the recent crimes of police brutality against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and countless others, this issue could no longer be swept under the rug and kept out of sight. “We truly saw a lot of people wanting to become allies. A lot of people are starting to want to learn about police brutality, specifically as it affects Black people,” said Hunter.
With this campaign and the ongoing work to understand current racial issues, it may seem that racial tensions are being resolved, but this racial wound cannot be healed so quickly. These wounds are much deeper and long-lasting as stated by Hunter, “Racism is not just somebody being murdered. It’s not just lynchings that happened years and years ago in the last century. It is everything that you are doing today. It’s the system that we’re living in.”
A systemically racist environment is still prevalent in office and campus cultures, shown through the interruption of a Black colleague or the minimization of a Black friend’s emotions about an uncomfortable incident. Systemic racism continues the cycle of silencing Black voices and minority students’ voices. Overlooking people of color and their experiences becomes commonplace unless they stand out through their own merit, such as through athletics and/or entertainment. This platform of exceptionalism grants them the ability to have their issues and concerns acknowledged and listened to. Value is placed upon them and their wants that is not granted to all people of color, a sentiment shared by Hunter from past comments she has heard.
“Oh, my gosh, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, you know, Viola Davis, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey. All these women are so strong, so great. But then you’re not allowing the Black woman in your life to speak, then what are you truly doing for us? Or when you are saying Roll Tide at football games or at a basketball game and you are cheering for all these Black bodies on the court [and] on the field. What are you doing for the Black men in your life?” Hunter said.
Advocating for people of color, specifically Black people in your life, is a delicate issue and must be handled with care. Otherwise, well-intentioned help or recognition can be perceived as self-serving. “Being an ally versus being a savior is a fine line to walk and you never want people to go into the savior portion,” said Hunter. Worrying more about appearances and reputation should never be more important than actually working towards equality because the truth is that the work being done is messy and hard but vital for generations to come.
“And so if you kind of look at the microcosm of the University of Alabama. It’s not perfect. And I’m not sure if anything is ever going to be perfect. But, if we just remain stagnant in the fact that it isn’t perfect, we aren’t going to grow and we aren’t going to be able to make a better life for the people who are coming after us. We have come so far, we’re right here. We’re not taking a victory lap, because we still have so far to go. But the only way that we can get to that point is if we all commit to understanding that growth is not easy. Growth is not linear, growth takes time. It takes awkward conversations. It takes frustration. It takes butting heads. It takes differing opinions.”