An important part of being a firm ally (sometimes called a co-conspirator or accomplice) for the Black Lives Matter movement is educating yourself about the lived experiences of Black people. The must-read literature out there by Black authors is extensive and constantly growing, and it's critical to seek out those voices. Beyond donating (or providing support if you don't have the funds) and putting your dollars towards Black-owned businesses, educating yourself is long-term work towards an authentic understanding about the systems of racism in which we all live—and the white fragility, segregation, and covert racism that come with it.
Here are just a few quotes about race and racism that come from a variety of sources, but have critical elements in common: They get at the pain and frustration underlying the Black Lives Matter movement, and speak to the long, long history of systemic racism towards Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
"Time and again, racist ideas have not been cooked up from the boiling pot of ignorance and hate. Time and again, powerful and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to justify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto Black people."
Frederick Douglass, Selected Speeches and Writings
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
Godfrey David, Brooklyn, N.Y.
"I've been given this talk many times by many people. Don't be aggressive. Police usually work in groups of two: If you see one, assume there is one you cannot see. Nine times out of ten, people will believe the police over believing you. If a cop hits you, don't fight back: Hope that someone will notice and say something. Never match outfits: More than three men dressed in the same color equals a gang...I plan on having kids and I want to be a great role model. But I find myself thinking on the world they're going to live in. The future doesn't look so bright. A growing fear of mine is that I will die at the hands of a police officer. What scares me the most is it happening in front of my children."
Michelle Obama, Obama Foundation Summit
"I can’t make people not afraid of black people. I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t explain what’s happening in your head. But maybe if I show up every day as a human, a good human, doing wonderful things, loving my family, loving your kids, taking care of things that I care about—maybe, just maybe that work will pick away at the scabs of your discrimination. Maybe that slowly will unravel it. That’s all we have, because we can’t do it for them, because they’re broken. Their brokenness in how they see us is a reflection of this brokenness. And you can’t fix that. All you can do is the work."
Abhijit Naskar, Heart Force One: Need No Gun to Defend Society
"Let me tell you here and now as a black person, we don't expect charity, we just expect the trust and dignity, to which the white person is entitled in this world by default."
Kiley Reid, Such a Fun Age
“'You're not the first black woman [Mrs. Chamberlain] has hired to work for her family, and you probably won't be the last.' 'Okay...?' Emira sat down. She didn't mean to sound flippant, but she doubted that Kelley could really tell her anything she didn't already know. Emira had met several 'Mrs. Chamberlains' before...It wasn't that Emira didn't understand the racially charged history that Kelley was alluding to, but she couldn't help but think that if she weren't working for this Mrs. Chamberlain, she'd probably be working for another one.”
Robert Stephens, Kansas City, MO
"It was the last day of school, and I was walking with my dad, preparing to leave. Suddenly, he paused, looked at me intently and said, "Son, you're a black male, and that's two strikes against you." To the general public, anything that I did would be perceived as malicious and deserving of severe punishment and I had to govern myself accordingly. I was seven years old."
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Racism should never have happened and so you don't get a cookie for reducing it.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
"But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body."
Roxane Gay, "Surviving Django"
"There is no collective slavery revenge fantasy among black people, but I am certain, if there were one, it would not be about white people, not at all. My slavery revenge fantasy would probably involve being able to read and write without fear of punishment or persecution coupled with a long vacation in Paris. It would involve the reclamation of dignity on my own terms and not with the 'generous' assistance of benevolent white people who were equally complicit in the ills of slavery."
"No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise."
Christopher J. Lebron, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019
“But if you start from the idea that Blacks are indeed human, then every commitment to equality after that will be unshakable. And that is the thing to be learned from the 1688 petition. Blacks do not need allies who fight for our inclusion; rather, we need people who are possessed of the basic belief that we are human and that any arguments that depend on rejecting that proposition are tyrannical, unjust, and to be fought.”
"It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones."
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
"The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance."
Chris Rock, Vulture
"We treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down."
James Baldwin, Another Country
"People don't have any mercy. They tear you limb from limb, in the name of love. Then, when you're dead, when they've killed you by what they made you go through, they say you didn't have any character. They weep big, bitter tears—not for you. For themselves, because they've lost their toy."
Nico Davis, Gary, IN
"My kids will get all the talks. I'll teach them to respect the law and the people tasked to uphold it, but to be weary of them as well, because they are still people, too. Flawed people. I will teach them that hate has many forms and racism is but one head of the hydra. I will teach them to speak out when their rights are violated and treat every injustice with the incredulity it deserves. Because I never want my kids to be used to it...I will teach that no reason is enough to justify their demise. I will teach them that they are human, too, regardless of their hue and their personhood doesn't need to qualified with descriptors like 'honor roll student,' 'good kid,' or nice to everyone.' Maybe we'll get justice before that time comes. Just maybe."
President Barack Obama, on Trayvon Martin's death
"There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me—at least before I was a senator."
"Protest is not the end of progress, it is the beginning. I wonder what would happen if all the big companies and celebrities who have showed support on social media came out and used their platform to let activists and protesters speak and be seen? I wonder what would happen if we allowed the outrage to have positive influence in our local government? What would happen if those in power defunded the police & dismantled their racist culture and corrupt power structures? Cities are burning, are you watching? I stand with Minneapolis. I believe in us. Change is gonna come."
Andrena Sawyer, quoted in Wake Up, White America
"I can't bring myself to watch yet another video, not because I don't care, but because we're all just a few videos away from becoming completely desensitized. The public execution of Black folks will never be normal."
Toni Morrison, "A Humanist View"
"The very serious function of racism…is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary."