Black History Month: How to be an ally to the black communityby
Organisations must lead the way in supporting black people, not only to set the right example to staff and the wider community, but to change the very insitutions they represent.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, became a line I heard frequently from non-black friends, peers and colleagues in the wake of George Floyd’s death back in May 2020 and during the subsequent revival of the Black Lives Matter movement.
My initial reaction was that the sentiment was welcomed and those offers of help did make a difference during what was an emotionally taxing time. At the same time, the messages forced me to consider what exactly they could do to help.
Whilst the Black Lives Matter movement is not new, it certainly felt like something had changed this time
Words were just the beginning and it was important that meaningful action took place to combat the issues faced by the black community in the UK and globally.
Whilst the Black Lives Matter movement is not new, it certainly felt like something had changed this time around and this momentum highlighted the need for the movement to be pushed, not just by the black community, but by everyone in society, including those who occupy positions which allow them to make real change.
What does it really mean to be an ally?
To be an ally is to stand with a community and take action to support that group. To be an ally to the black community is also recognising where privilege has played a part in upholding certain institutional and systemic inequalities and doing your bit, however small, to fight against it.
In this ongoing journey of fighting racial inequality, what are some of the ways that you can be an ally to the black community, during Black History Month and beyond?
1. Amplify black voices
An abundance of resources and art have been produced by the black community. Share and engage with these where you can. Support does not go unnoticed and it helps to create a genuine and positive sense of community.
2. Every little helps
Charitable organisations, funds, petitions all need support, and contributions (however small) can have an impact. For example, The Black Curriculum is an initiative that campaigns for the teaching of black history in schools, not just in Black History Month, but throughout the year. Organisations such as this are vital for instilling education in young people who could go on to be tomorrow’s leaders.
3. Speak up
Calling out offensive or inappropriate behaviour is paramount and it really does make a difference when such behaviour is called out from people outside the community. It is particularly important that this is done in the workplace, especially in areas where the black community is underrepresented.
Organisations promoting change
It was encouraging and positive to see people from across the Herbert Smith Freehills network engaging in discussion following the message put out by our CEO Justin D’Agostino on the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of having open conversations about racial inequality.
I watched as colleagues shared their honest thoughts, suggested resources and educated each other in an open and candid forum. For me, this was the perfect example of allyship and confirmed to me that Herbert Smith Freehills is truly a community that cares about its people.
I watched as colleagues shared their honest thoughts, suggested resources and educated each other in an open and candid forum.
The step the firm took to sign the Race Fairness Commitment, created by Rare in July 2020, was another example of allyship in action and the firm using its position as a leading firm to tackle the issue of racial inequality in the legal profession head on.
This Black History Month, while we share experiences, commemorate black history and celebrate the contributions and achievements of the black community, I hope we continue to see allyship at Herbert Smith Freehills and promote meaningful change.
Olivia Odubanjo is an Associate in HSF’s Dispute Resolution division, working in general commercial litigation. She studied Law with European Legal Studies at King’s College London. Olivia is passionate about diversity in the legal industry and is a mentor to aspiring Law students. She is an avid traveller and she spent six months on secondment...