Campus & Community

Diversity Summit workshop offers advice on being a good ally to minority voices

An eye-opening workshop called “White Bodies and Racial Justice Work: Understanding Ally Identities in the Black Lives Matter Movement” was led by Kristen Powell today at the University of Denver’s 15th annual Diversity Summit. Powell, a senior majoring in sociology with minors in intercultural and global studies and communication studies, is working on a senior thesis looking at social identities and positionality within the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly focusing on allyship and white identities.

The workshop explored the role of allies, intersectional identities and racial activism within the Black Lives Matter movement. Powell said there is some debate going on about whether or not Black Lives Matter is the second wave of the civil rights movement, but suggested that it is more complex than that. “It’s not only about asking for civil rights,” she said. “It’s asking for hierarchies to be completely eradicated.” She pointed out that it is vital that people of color are seen as human and “that they have the basic needs that they deserve and that society promised them would be fulfilled. Now, society needs to own up to that promise.”

Powell discussed the process of identifying communities to engage with and finding place and belonging in those communities. Throughout the session, she reminded the audience to “be aware of your privilege, power and space,” and to question how these things came to be.

“Other people don’t need to tell you what this is,” Powell explained. “That is a responsibility you get to have as a white person — exploring your own racial identity and what that means.” She added that what’s important is how the majority then leverages that privilege to bring other, underrepresented voices center stage.

The session provided tools to be a “good ally” through understanding positionality, knowing its impact on behavior and thought, and being aware of space in racial justice development. Powell stressed the importance of making one’s feelings public. If you witness racism, she said, speak up.

“Make it personal, but make it political,” she said. Simply being upset doesn’t make change happen. “These are institutional things to grieve over, and that means we need to take institutional action and political action to respond to that in ways that question an entire institution and not a single incident.”

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