Interview with Anna-Giulia Cescon from “Become An Ally” on how to act like an ally

We have interviewed the ally-in-progess Anna-Giulia Cescon to learn from the journey that made her create “Become an Ally”. She teaches us that anyone of us can do so much more than just reposting a black square on Instagram. It is a learning process to understand what it really means to act as an ally.

Listen to the whole interview:

When the Black Lives Matter Movement started to be all over the social media channels, we saw a lot of people reposting all kinds of different content to show their compassion.

But one person started to attract our attention: Anna-Giulia Cescon.

We could really follow her journey from “I am reposting things like everyone else” to “Wow, I read some books and joined some webinars, and it had opened my eyes” to “I want to do something about it and become an ally”.

Stor-ey: In the frame of the most recent Black Lives Matter movement, you started to become active to inform and educate about racism, how did this movement open your eyes?

Anna-Giulia Cescon: I think that now, for the first time, a wider part of White people started to actually listen to what BIPOC have been saying for centuries. We are undeniably and without excuses late, but finally we are here: White people are trying to be part of this long-overdue revolution. As soon as I started reading and educating myself on racism, I realised that I was/am not as non-racist as I thought. I learned, for instance, that by saying “I see everyone equal regardless of the color of their skin” (color blindness) I was actually denying how our society does treat people differently due to their race.

I realised how, every time I travelled to African countries for work or pleasure, my behaviour was in part driven by White saviourism toward children and women: I always tried to educate them and to help improve their lives. 

Explicitly racist behaviours (physical and verbal violence, extreme right-wing policies, …) are the tip of the iceberg: we have privileges just because we were born with White skin but, together with those, we’ve inherited and absorbed prejudices and anti-blackness ideas because the society we are living in is both explicitly and implicitly racist. 

Stor-ey: What does it mean to you to become/act like a white ally?

Anna-Giulia: Rachel Ricketts, one of the activists I’m learning from, said on several occasions that you can’t BE an ally, you have to ACT as an ally, and I agree with her. 

To me, acting as an ally means:

A. committing to a continuous learning process directly from non-White voices: read books, listen to podcasts, join workshops and webinars, talk with people from the Black and marginalised community;

B. consistently amplifying BAME’s voices: recommend to family and friends the resources you’re learning from and, if allowed, share them. The “if allowed” is fundamental here: paying for BAME’s labour is not optional so, if you are lending a book, you can suggest donating the equivalent amount to an organization supporting the BLM movement or do a one-off pledge on someone’s Patreon, for instance;

C. preparing yourself to feel and sit with your discomfort, to say something that might hurt and being called out/in for this and, nonetheless, to keep doing this work;

D. be active: join protests, donate money if you have the possibility, sign petitions, write to your MP or political party asking for changes, buy from Black-owned businesses.

There’s a lot more…but let’s stop here now!

@bcome_an_ally

Stor-ey: A lot of people just have posted the simple black square on one day and then never said another word about it or taken any other action. What is your suggestion to those people on how to become a better ally?

Anna-Giulia: Silence is violence: by remaining silent, each of us is feeding a system that is racist and that was built (and still works) to perpetuate White privileges and supremacy. I see publishing a black square as a quick and easy way of convincing oneself that you did your part in this fight – except for the fact that you did the opposite. If we want to make a change, we must use our voices in an active way: don’t remain silent if racist jokes are made by family members or friends, search within yourself where implicit biases sit and fight them, recognise if you are taking advantage of a White privilege and be willing to lose it. I’m not coming up with anything new here: there’s plenty of resources and BI/POC who are still providing invaluable tips to do our part, so go look for these!

Stor-ey: When you started to approach this topic, which books, movies, articles or podcasts helped you to get a deeper understanding?

Well, that’s an ongoing list of course, but that’s what resonated the most within myself so far.

As workshops, I truly recommend Spiritual Activism 101 and 102 from Rachel Ricketts (you can buy them on her website). 

I’m still listening to Scene on Radio S2 Seeing White (James Biewen): it’s extremely informative and is making me realise how ignorant I am in regard to the history of race and racism. On my future podcast library there’re “Pod save the people”, “Intersectionality matters”, “Code Switch”, “Momentum: a race forward podcast”. 

A book that I can’t recommend enough isMe and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, which is not something you can read before going to sleep or while travelling, though. It is structured as a 28-days exercise (originally was born as an Instagram challenge): every day a different aspect of White Supremacy is explained and some journaling questions are proposed to guide you while discovering how you’ve been acting as racist in regard to that specific aspect. Believe me when I’m saying that doing this work was often overwhelming but, as the author says on several occasions, you can’t fight something that sits inside yourself if you don’t recognise and face it first. Other interesting books I’ve enjoyed are “Why I’m no longer talking to White people about race” (Reni Eddo-Lodge), “Sister Outsider” (Audre Lorde) and “How to be an antiracist” (Ibram X Kendi – currently reading). Still on my lists I have “Brit(ish)” (Afua Hirsch), “Hood Feminism” (Mikki Kendall), “Women, Race & Class” (Angela Y. Davis). 

I’m also extremely grateful to some activists I’m constantly learning from (besides the authors already mentioned): @ajabarber, @rachel.cargle, @blairimani, @monachalabi, @leesarenee, @courtneyahndesign, @maryamajayi and many more. Just start with someone and very soon you’ll realise how many persons you can learn and be inspired from.

@bcome_an_ally

Stor-ey: Now you have started your own Instagram account @bcome_an_ally and along with it a regularly hosted online webinar, having many speakers talking about different topics. How did you start with this idea and project?

At first, I opened a dedicated account (@onewhiteally*) where I was sharing my personal journey while learning and taking action but, as soon as my understanding of racism and White Supremacy got wider, I realised that I was doing the wrong thing. Even if I had all the best intentions, I was actually centering myself and my own experiences, which does not matter in this fight. (*The name of the Instagram account has been changed to @bcome_an_ally)

However, this short experience was crucial as it allowed me to move the focus back on Black voices and experiences. One evening I shared this idea with my husband and he gave me full support. The day after I put down a list of topics and profile I would have had to approach and not even 6 weeks after the first webinar was happening. I am forever grateful for the support I received from the Black community and the enthusiasm shown by the women I approached to be speakers.

Tickets for “Act as an Ally” by Victoria Alexander – the second webinar of “Become an Ally” series – are now on sale so you might want to take a look at them as well.

Stor-ey: Become an Ally, tell us a bit more about it, how does it work? What’s the goal and purpose?

Anna-Giulia: Become an Ally is a series of webinars where guest BAME speakers address a specific racist-related theme; each talk is followed by a Q&A time and relevant resources to start/continue learning on the topic are recommended before the webinar.

The webinar fee is 15£ and the entire revenues from the ticket sales will go to the speaker.

The topics range from how you can actively become an ally, to how racism is still affecting the health system, how to talk about racism with children and many more.

I have three main objectives with Become an Ally:

1. Amplify BAME’s voices – especially Women+ – and create a safe space for them to share their knowledge;

2. Create a structured opportunity for White people to learn something extremely valuable and to share questions/receive feedbacks in a closed environment, without the worries of being widely exposed as happens on social media;

3. Remunerate the speakers for their labour, time, passion and knowledge.

Stor-ey: Based on the article you wrote for us sometime back about raising two young eco-warriors, we know that educating your children about serious topics is very important to you. How did you introduce the topic of racism and white supremacy? How was their reaction?

Since I became a mother, I’ve felt the urge of doing my best to leave to my children and future generations a better world to live in – achieving equity for everyone was not on the list until a few months ago, but it’s on the top of it now, next to being environmentally conscious and active, growing two feminist boys, actively supporting the LGBQT+ community.

As always, once you are approaching conversation with kids you have to be confident with your own knowledge of the topic and get ready to answer a lot of questions. An extremely valid support is provided by @theconsciouskids (if you become a Patreon you’ll also receive several articles and resources that will support you in your journey).

Filippo, who just turned two, is exposed to books with diverse characters/families and we do point out these by saying “look this child has two dads who love him” for instance, or “this child has brown skin, you have pink skin, Tommaso (my older son) has darker pink complexion – we all have different and unique skin colours but we are all worthy regardless”.

With Tommaso, who is almost 6, we can have open discussions: he’s lucky because he has classmates belonging to different ethnic groups, which was a really good starting point. I asked him how he feels about it, if he thinks that skin colours or religious beliefs can have an impact on the person’s capabilities and worth and luckily his answer was negative. Don’t give this for granted, because the implicit bias that our children are exposed to can effectively impact their beliefs since they are 2 years old – that’s why it’s never too early to start talking about inequalities (you can learn more about this in the article “Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn About Race” by Dr. Erin Winkler)

Once I assessed this, I introduced the concept of racism and how in the past Black people were enslaved by White people and how this had an impact in the future generations; how Black people fought for their human rights; how White people need to dismantle White supremacy and be willing to become allies. 

He sees me going to protests and takes part to making signs – so that’s also a good opportunity to talk about it.

I honestly don’t rely on him asking questions first, my husband and I are actively opening the conversions – especially at the beginning:  I don’t want to leave anything untold. He’s going to school, he’ll surely be exposed to different approaches and behaviours and I want him to be fully equipped to recognise oppressive behaviours, to know who to talk with about them and to stand against them.

Stor-ey: What would you like to give our readers on their way?

Anna-Giulia: I want to close this interview with an eye-opening concept I’m still digesting: the difference between equality and equity.

Equality is promoting fairness, a concept that is really grounded into children and that I thought was the main tool to fight racism: we need to be treated in an equal way, to be given same opportunities and access to resources, education, housing policy, etc. “The problem is that equality does not take into consideration historical and contemporary forms of discrimination, such as racism, which privilege white people at the expense of people of color. We don’t all start or exist on a level playing field, so having the same response or resources for everyone is actually not “equal”.” (The Conscious Kids).

Equity on the other hand demands that individual needs are taken into consideration. […] Equity calls for fair treatment, access, advancement, and opportunity for all people. It strives to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups or individuals. Promoting equity requires an understanding of the causes of outcome disparities within our society” (Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance).

Everyone, not only minorities, will benefit from a Society aiming at Equity; Governments will play a huge part in this, of course. But we can apply these concepts to our life as well: we all need to commit and to do more, to focus more energies toward learning and act to reach Equity. We can spread the seeds of change that will eventually grow inside other people, who will talk and start acting as allies as well.

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