DISCLAIMER * There may be errors in what I am saying and I am always open to learning and have educated conversations. 🖤
I have been watching my social media newsfeed change a lot over the last 14 days. It has gone from filtered outfit selfies, TikTok challenge videos and throwback travel pics to black squares, Black art and Black activism. Here are some things that I have learned about myself as this has been unfolding.
1. Where I Stand
Ever since I saw the video of George Floyd dying on the street by an officer kneeling on his neck I have felt completely sickened and outraged. I immediately understood that there was so much wrong with this society. And when my newsfeed switched over to #JusticeForGeorgeFlyod posts I quickly knew my place in the fight. It was a no brainer.
But I was scared to say anything. I was scared to stand up for what I truly believed, deep down in my heart. That racism is still prevalent in our society and needs to end. That this is a human rights issue.
I have had no problem standing up for other causes in the past, like the #MeToo movement and talking openly about climate change and sustainability.
But when it came to me posting the #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd artwork on my IG story, I hesitated. I was uncomfortable and nervous about who might see it and what they might think.
At that moment I checked myself. Because my whole cause is to be your authentic self and to stand up for what you believe in in this world. If I decided to stay quiet, not only would I be hurting the cause, but I would also be a hypocrite. In listening to my feelings, being aware of my discomfort and following where it came from I was able to squash it. I posted the #JusticeForGerogeFloyd artwork and showed my following where I stood in this movement.
Ever since that moment I have been deeply involved. Every day I learn new things from my community about systemic racism, privilege, the history of both Canada and America and so much more. My DMs are full of eye-opening and educated discussions with some of my amazing friends. And I continue to share knowledge as I learn it, furthering the spread of awareness and valuable resources.
Starting is the hardest part of anything you do because it makes you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. With that said, I encourage you to get started.
2. Leaders Need To Lead
If you are a leader in your industry, if you are a teacher, if you provide a service to your community, if you have a large IG following, then you don’t have the luxury of staying silent in an issue that affects the world like this. I’m sorry. Especially when it is a human rights issue that is effecting your clients, your customers, your students or your followers. Acknowledge your influence. If you are a role model to others in any way, I believe you must quickly form an educated opinion and speak up. And if you end up losing some followers who disagree with your stance in this, I believe that is a blessing.
Many of us have different social media circles. When you reach so many people yet you decide to stay quiet, you are missing out on opportunities where you could be educating your following or at the very least providing them with valuable resources. And consider, by doing so your community could be hearing/seeing something for the first time. This doesn’t only apply to social media which is controlled by unknown algorithms, you also have power in your newsletters as well as anytime you connect with your people.
After I got more comfortable posting on my personal IG with around 2400 followers, I decided I couldn’t stay quiet on my business account just because it only has 400 followers. The numbers don’t matter when you are a leader. I teach dance. I teach students from all walks of life, backgrounds and races. This affects my students and as their teacher, I must stand up for them by doing whatever I can.
3. I Profit Off Of Black Culture
As a dance teacher, I understand that so much of what I do comes from Black culture. I use Black artist’s music in almost 100% of my classes, from my warm-ups to my routines. I have been inspired by the movement and dance of Black artists since my childhood. At any given moment you can usually find me listening to artists like Janet Jackson, Sade, Aaliyah, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, etc. These are the voices that I am inspired by and I feel such a connection to their music.
The dance style that I teach is Heels and it has roots in Jazz, Ballet and Hip Hop. Jazz and Hip Hop both started in Black communities and have since become popular throughout the world. I acknowledge that I have so much more to learn about the history of dance and how Black artists contributed to it, and I am determined to make it a priority.
I’ve noticed many teachers in my community have taken time to pause their classes and not conduct business as usual while this movement gains momentum. They have chosen to do this as a sign of solidarity and support. I thought of the ways I wanted to show up for my community during this movement and to be honest, not dancing was not one of them.
Dance has the power to bring people together. It has a way of healing us through movement. It is also a vital source of community. Through these times of COVID-19, we have all been stripped of our communities and a lot of us feel like we are fighting a solo fight right now. I know I have felt overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted through all of this. I believe anyone doing the important work right now has.
I knew that it would help my community if we got together and danced. But I also understand how it looks as a privileged white woman, profiting off of teaching a sexy routine to a Black artist right now. So I decided to do something different. I made a routine to We Need A Resolution by Aaliyah. The lyrics seemed so fitting for what is going on in the world right now. I made the moves powerful and symbolic, yet still feminine. And I chose to help the cause by donating all the money I made to a Canadian charity, Black Health Alliance, who help to improve the wellbeing of communities in Canada.
For anyone who would like to purchase the 90-minute class, it is available for $10 and I will continue to donate all the money from this class to Black Health Alliance. Contact me through any channel. See the video of the routine here.
4. Doing The Work Is Messy
After 4 days of learning how to do better for the Black community, an opportunity presented itself to me. I deeply believe that this was one of those meant-to-be-moments. I was on a walk in my neighbourhood (Forest Hill/Lawrence Park – this is a very rich, predominately white neighbourhood in Toronto) and I felt pulled to walk in a direction that was not the way I intended to go. Right away I saw a poster taped onto a signpost that said:
“Dear White People,
To remain silent in the face of injustice is to condone racism.
They were taped onto many signposts up and down the street. My first reaction was “Whoa! This is going to bother a lot of people in this neighbourhood, but that is the point. Good on them for spreading awareness the old fashion way.”
Almost immediately after I noticed the sign I saw a man across the street rip off the poster, crumple it up and throw it on the street. I must have stood there for 10 seconds with my mouth wide open in shock. What did I just witness? I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. Usually, I’m not the one to start a scene or approach a strange man with an unwanted opinion. I gave myself about a dozen excuses why I didn’t have to do anything in this situation. But I didn’t listen to any of them.
I followed him. I thought I could maybe get a video of him ripping down another poster, but he was careful not to. Then I saw him sit down on a park bench and have a cigarette. This was my chance. He didn’t seem like a threat so I contemplated my next move.
I went back down the street and grabbed the sign that he threw on the road and strode back to him on the bench. As a safety precaution, I videotaped our interaction. But I wanted to be discreet as I wasn’t sure how he would react if he knew I was blatantly recording him.
Please note I have never done anything like this. Confrontation is not easy for me so I was shaking with adrenaline the entire time.
I asked him politely if I could bother him. I told him that I saw him rip down the sign and that I thought it was wrong. He immediately got defensive saying that he did not appreciate the message of the sign. He told me that he thought it assumed a lot and didn’t like seeing it in his neighbourhood. And he said that he had the power to take it down if he wanted. I continued to try to ask him questions about what he thought the sign should say instead if he was so caught up in the phrasing. He was firm in not wanting to continue the conversation. I realized that I was not going to get through to this man and so I walked away. The entire interaction was over in 60 seconds.
Immediately after I walked away I was upset with myself. Being terrible at confrontation I thought that the entire interaction went so badly. As soon as I left I thought of so many things that I wish I could have told him. I could have told him that he was suppressing freedom of speech, or that he doesn’t own this entire neighbourhood, or that maybe the fact that he doesn’t like the sign means that he is a part of the problem. I also tried to capture his face on camera as I walked away but ended up stopping the video by accident. This was not at all how I intended the interaction to go.
But after a few hours of letting the interaction sit with me, I realized that what I did was important and necessary. I told him that I thought he was doing something wrong, and I asked him questions that got him to explain his stance. Most of all I bothered his peace and let him know that he can’t get away with that kind of ignorant behaviour. And in doing so I got to stand up for something I believe in, not just on social media, and not just in my circle of friends, but in the real world with a stranger. I know it wasn’t perfect, but it was better than nothing.
You can watch the video that I posted to my IG stories right after it happened with snip-its of my conversation with the man. It is now on my IGTV. Note that it uploaded weird and is slightly cut off in places.
5. Don’t Try To Prove Anything
In this day and age, we feel pressured to prove ourselves every day on social media. We take pictures of our designer clothes to prove that we are on-trend. We post pictures from our travels to our dinners at restaurants to prove that we were there. We post cute text threads with our significant other to prove that we have one. Because if it’s not on IG did it even happen?
Be careful not to jump on this movement just because it’s a trending topic. If your actions offline aren’t as fierce as your actions online then you have to stop and check yourself. Once the hashtags and the activist videos stop circulating in your feed don’t let it go back to the regularly scheduled program. That program is corrupt.
Just as I didn’t believe that everything would go back to the way it was before COVID-19, I also don’t think we can ever return to a world that treats it’s beautiful, talented and valuable Black people this way. It’s your job to keep the work going offline, in your families, in your communities and in your hearts.
Please don’t make this about anyone else. This is a not a who-is-more-woke contest or who-can-be-a-better-ally challenge. It isn’t about shaming others as we learn how to show up. No one is doing this perfectly right now. There is no perfect. This is about you acknowledging where you might have been wrong in the past or where you ignored something that you shouldn’t have. Once you understand where you have been wrong you are making the conscious effort to change and grow from it.
And lastly, do the work with love. Don’t do it to prove anything. Don’t do it to be “cool”. Don’t do it to be recognized. This is purely selfless work that we must do now so do it with your whole heart. We have such an amazing opportunity to recreate our society so that we are all treated equally.
Let’s be kind more than ever right now. Kind to others and kind to ourselves. Rest when you are tired so that you can continue to show up and fight. Above all, just do your best. Love to you all.