On June 10, at around 1:00 am, I began writing the scraps of what would become a personal essay in response to the surge of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the US. 

It was days before my birthday; lockdown fatigue was kicking my ass, and after days of feeling simultaneously sickened by and desensitized to the anti-Black violence dominating the news cycle, I had to release my feelings in one of the only ways I know how — by writing them all out. 

In my essay, I described how it felt to be a Black American at the time: my heart would drop as I read yet another headline about an unarmed Black person murdered by the police. 

It’s been almost a full eight months since I wrote that essay — a year since the death of Ahmaud Arbery, 11 months since the death of Breonna Taylor, and nine months since the death of George Floyd. I wanted to revisit this piece, this all-too-familiar pain, to see how far we’ve come and reflect on the importance of true activism. 

As a Black woman, I have been called the n-word, compared to the devil, stereotyped as angry and loud, followed in stores, had my features mocked, been ridiculed for speaking African-American Vernacular English, had my hair touched without my permission, and been subjected to a host of other aggressions. 

In these instances, I was faced with my strongest “fight, flight, or freeze” instincts. And every time, like clockwork, I chose to freeze. 

It was as if my brain simply couldn’t process the fact that I was being subjected to racism by people who I considered my friends and my teachers, or by people in my hometown and on my campus. I felt ambushed and forced to stay silent, so I erroneously pushed my own well-being aside in favour of mitigation. 

Last May, while I was desperately scrolling through social media and reading New York Times articles in my room, I felt something shift. There was something about witnessing millions of people marching, protesting, and screaming at the top of their lungs that Black lives did indeed matter that incentivized me. It made me more willing to stand for my truth — more willing to call out racism exactly when and where I experienced it. 

This, however, has led me to recognize an important reality: the onus should not be on the Black community to call out every instance of racism that we experience. It remains the responsibility of white people and non-Black racialized people to examine how their everyday actions and words have historically been used to degrade, dehumanize, and belittle Black people.

For allyship to be consequential, it must steadily resist the lure of being self-serving. Last summer, we saw blatant acts of performative activism perpetrated by a select few non-Black people attending protests to get pictures for their Instagram feeds or haphazardly posting black screens before descending back into relative unawareness. 

In June, U of T released a statement claiming that it was committed to continuing building a safe environment for Black students. Yet an Instagram account dedicated to exposing racist incidents across all three campuses — @beingblackatuoft — has dozens of posts submitted by Black, Indigenous, and other racialized students. 

Meaningful solidarity requires cognizance of the maliciousness of systemic racism and its propensity to pervade change when not critically faced head on. It involves the tangible support of grassroots organizations and Black activists. It entails listening to Black people when we tell you about our experiences and which actions are genuinely beneficial to our community.

As Black History Month comes to an end, it serves as a poignant reminder that our advancements should impel us all to fight for more, rather than suspend our momentum. The progress that we witnessed was made possible through acts of protest, public dissent, and demonstrations of true solidarity.

Last year’s response to BLM was the most attention that the movement had received in a while, but in order for the Black community and Black students at U of T to feel safe — to feel as though we are actually being heard and seen — the fight against anti-Black racism must be emphatic and enduring. It must be proactive rather than reactive. This is only the beginning.

Abi Akinlade is a second-year drama and English student at Woodsworth College.