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Bridget Huff, progressive caucus leader for the Michigan Democratic party, has some tips on being a white ally.

LANSING, MI — In Michigan, voices across the state are calling for police reform through protests, marches and demonstrations. Black organizers across the country have paved the way in demanding an end to police brutality, and allied demonstrators are joining in full force. 

But what makes an effective ally in a time like this?

As one local leader put it, it’s about knowing when to “step up, but then step back.”

That’s the advice of Bridget Huff, progressive caucus chair of the Democratic party in Michigan. She explained that everyone has a role in calling for police reform following the deaths of so many Black citizens. 

“Anybody can do a lot. How loud you get with it is up to you,” Huff said. “It’s incredible to see small, rural, mostly Trump towns come out in force. It really shows you how easily the window can shift if people are focused.”

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When ‘Rocking the Boat’ Is a Responsibility 

Huff says she has always sought racial diversity and different points of view.

“The scope of my work has changed depending on the setting,” she told The ‘Gander. “When I was a stay-at-home mom, it was more about questioning why there are no African American teachers at the school.”

When she did enter politics, Huff found her voice amplifying the messages of people whose voices are often ignored.

“I learned so much more about my power as a white woman to challenge some of these constructs that people of color just can’t.”

White voices are often amplified in American society while people of color (POC) are silenced or censored. Huff notes the importance of elevating Black leaders’ voices because they can be tuned out by people who do not share the same views.

“We need to take ownership of that. We need to take responsibility to rock the boat.”

Michigan Leaders Set the Stage 

Michigan’s leaders play an important role in setting examples of collaborating with activists for real change rather than dismissing them. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer immediately addressed Michiganders after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests. She and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist produced a video addressing the pain and violence the Black community has been subject to. 

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In the video, Gov. Whitmer steps back so that Lt. Gov. Gilchrist can speak the most and share his first-person experiences. 

“Black people are mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted from generations of saying we can’t breathe,” Gilchrist later said.

His comments have allowed Michiganders the opportunity to hear how this has impacted so many people directly in the state.

In a New York Times op-ed, Gov. Whitmer calls the coronavirus pandemic a civil rights issue because of how it disproportionately affects communities of color. Black Michiganders are more likely to die from the coronavirus than other ethnicities. Gov. Whitmer demonstrated her allyship by speaking to the issue, which has largely been ignored.

Other leaders throughout the state are finding common ground rather than being divisive. 

Rep. Justin Amash, a conservative and outspoken critic of the Trump Administration, tweeted to help families impacted by police brutality find justice in holding cops accountable:

4 Ways to Show You’re an Ally 

Huff says any white person can help fight racial injustice in America.

“There’s just no excuse to do nothing,” she said. “You step up and offer what you have to give, but you don’t stay there. You step back and you let people of color and the leaders in these movements ask you ‘can you do X, Y or Z.’”

1. Clean up after protests

“Don’t think you’re above it. If they’re asking you to follow the protest and clean up the trash, [don’t think] that that’s an insult. That’s something that you can do,” Huff said.

2. Giving money, food, water and medical supplies to protest organizers

“I think as white people we’re just so conditioned [to believe] that we … have so much to offer that we should be stepping up and leading, but that’s not what the Black community needs right now.”

3. Donating to bail funds

“It took white kids getting hurt for people to finally step up and care,” Huff said, “But there’s so much you can do.”

4. Listen 

“Let the people closest to the pain lead,” Huff said. She recommends listening to people of color to better understand their experiences.

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