The scope of systemic racism in this country is overwhelming and infuriating. Race affects everything — how seriously your doctor evaluates your symptoms, your quality of education, your job and housing prospects. And, of course, your likelihood of being harassed, arrested or killed by police, who, in the vast majority of cases, walk away with impunity.
In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday, anti-police brutality protests have reignited across the country, including in Oakland and Hayward, the latter of which had two police shootings this month. Meanwhile, many people are struggling with ways to contribute to the fight for racial justice at a time when health authorities advise that the best way to help the world right now is to stay at home.
If that’s you, then here are some concrete ways to be helpful while sheltering in place.
Donate to on-the-ground activists
Activists attending physical protests during the pandemic are putting themselves on the line in numerous ways, especially if they are people of color who are likelier to be taken to jail, where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is incredibly high. The Minnesota Freedom Fund is bailing people out of jail who were arrested in the ongoing Minneapolis street protests with the help of the National Lawyers Guild and Legal Rights Center. In Oakland, People’s Breakfast and the Bay Area Anti-Repression Committee are bailing out protestors. The Anti-Repression Committee, formed out of the Occupy protests of 2011, is collaborating with the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, which is also supported by donations.
Help when it’s not an emergency
A police killing is an extreme example of the ways racism manifests in America, but there are ways to support black and brown communities even when it’s not a state of emergency. Equal access to housing, food, medical care and education are also crucial in the fight for racial justice.
In Alameda County, where black people make up 11% of the total population, 47% of homeless people are black. The grassroots organizations People’s Breakfast Oakland and the East Oakland Collective are working directly to provide meals and hygienic supplies to our unhoused neighbors, going out into the field even during the pandemic.
Planting Justice employs formerly incarcerated people and gives low-income communities of color access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The Roots Community Health Center offers health services to those impacted by systemic poverty—including COVID-19 testing, which we know low-income black and brown need people most. The Transgender, Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice Project assists and advocates for gender non-conforming people, especially trans women of color, in California’s jails and prisons.
Donating directly to individuals is also a solid option when you see them crowdfunding on social media.
Reading, watching documentaries and joining an anti-racist educational program are all good ways to learn the facts of how deeply racism permeates all facets of American life. Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national network that seeks to foster anti-racist solidarity among white people through education and actions. Author Ibram X. Kendi put together an anti-racist reading list. Robin D’Angelo’s White Fragility digs into the communication breakdowns white people face when talking about race. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow details how the criminal justice system perpetuates racist oppression. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo gets into a variety of topics, including the school-to-prison pipeline, the model minority myth and more. There are also many guides online for ways non-black people can put their anti-racist beliefs into action, including this one with 75 suggestions.
Call lawmakers and vote
Although some people feel uninspired to vote in the presidential election, local ballot measures and officials impact our communities directly. Earlier this year in San Francisco, for instance, voters elected Chesa Boudin as district attorney, and he quickly moved to eliminate cash bail and stop prosecuting a variety of non-violent offenses. (For context, in San Francisco, 56% of jail inmates are black, while black people make up less that 6% of the city’s population.) This November, several California State Senate and Assembly seats are up for grabs, as well as Alameda County Board of Supervisors seats.
If you’re unsatisfied with how your local officials are handling issues of racial justice and otherwise—whether it’s your city’s response to the housing crisis, its treatment of people experiencing homelessness or its handling of COVID-19 relief efforts—call their offices, and get your friends to call too. Attending a city council meeting (which you can do virtually during the pandemic) and speaking during public comment is another way to get your voice heard.
Talk to your community
If you are white or a non-black person of color, chances are you’ve seen and heard examples of anti-black racism from friends, family or colleagues. It’s our job to call it out when it happens, even if it feels uncomfortable. You’re not “ruining” an otherwise peaceful occasion—they’re ruining it by being racist. For those of us who come from immigrant families, Letters for Black Lives offers explainers of the Black Lives Matter movement in dozens of languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Russian and more. In addition to policy shifts, white supremacy needs to be met with a cultural shift. Some people may be resistant to you trying to educate them, but regardless of their response, it’s important to let them know that racism is unacceptable.