Last week, Shug Farr went to several protests over the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
He showed up with a handkerchief tied around his head and a shirt with the image of his late grandfather CJ Osondu Farr, who opened schools for Black children in Washington state and taught him what it meant to march for Black liberation.
“I grew up around a lot of people that did the work, whether that's feeding children, educating children, and showing up when you need to show up,” he says.
At that particular protest and throughout the week, Farr noticed the crowds were the most ethnically diverse he’s seen, which made him hopeful for big change.
Brenda Stevenson, a professor of History and African American Studies at UCLA, said the diversity at recent protests has been many years in the making.
“In all the other protests that have been there, we see primarily African Americans. … But we do see the participation of a lot more people from different categories, from different kinds of racialized groups,” she says.
At the same time, Farr says the sudden increase in diversity among protests made him feel uncomfortable. When non-Black protesters, who called themselves allies, took a knee or agitated police, he wasn’t sure if they were sincere, or if they wanted to appear “woke.”
“We live in a place where optics become the narrative. I just hope that the right things are seen. The right movements, the right actions, the right intentions are seen and felt,” says Farr.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the intentions of allies are divided, says Farr. As more people get comfortable chanting “Black Lives Matter,” the more people will say it and believe it, he adds.
Nevertheless, when he’s standing on the frontline of a protest and an ally is standing next to him, he wonders, “Will they always be beside me?”
“The true test is what comes after the marching,” says Farr. “I think that's kind of where everyone's waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
The ability to spot authentic allyship is even tougher online, says digital strategist Adaobi Ugoagu.
Shortly after protests began, she noticed that most non-Black people were slow to post about the recent killings by police. Occasionally, some would make a one-off post.
Then last Tuesday, Ugoagu saw people tweeting #blackouttuesday, prompting people to post black boxes to show solidarity.
“I saw people didn’t even put a caption. It was empty. It was just a black box, so without any context, you don't even know what that black box is about, she says. “They're not actually doing anything,”.
In response, Ugoagu started #cashoutwednesday, encouraging people to post their receipts when they donate to Black-led organizations focused on justice. In one day, she saw more than 400 people use the hashtag and about $3000 in donations.
Ugoagu said the hashtag was not about the dollar amount. It was about whether people decided to publicly use their money and platform to speak out.
“I just didn't want to create an out for people,” she says. “You know your situation better than I do, and if you can or cannot give. So you gotta [sic] make that decision. But I won't give you the permission to do that.”
She adds: “And you know what? People who are broke and unemployed gave.”
Whether non-Black allies give money, go to protests, show up later, or just stay home, UCLA professor Brenda Stevenson says Black people can’t worry so much about whether non-Black allies are authentic.
“I think the people who it is authentic for, the African American community in particular, have to move forward. ... If people want to show up to help with that project, good. If they don’t want to, it’s still ultimately our project.”
This is why Farr goes to many protests throughout the week. He’ll have to do this kind of work for the rest of his life, he says.
For others, the protests may be a passing moment this year, he adds. Still, he was surprised and glad to see the movement spread outside of the Black community.
“There's electricity in the air, and it continues to grow and continues to grow. Next thing you see id France. You see Berlin. You see London. You see all 50 states. You see all these different places that are jumping on the back of the movement.”
Farr wants to see where the momentum will go. He admits that he may not live long enough to see Black people getting justice for centuries of oppression, but these recent protests might be the start he has been looking for.
“This is the closest shot I've ever seen in my lifetime. This is the best shot we've had so far. The only hope and the only thing I'm holding out for is stamina. I’m praying for stamina,” says Farr.
He prays for the stamina of himself, other Black people, and other allies who may stick around.