In early June, a crowd of neighbors gathered outside Tommy’s Tavern, listening as a woman named Kira shared her painful experiences with racism at that very Greenpoint corner.
Those living in and around Greenpoint are probably aware that the neighborhood pales in racial diversity compared to many other Brooklyn neighborhoods. As of 2018, 6.1% of the population identified as Asian, 3.9% identified as Black, 20.7% identified as Hispanic, and 65.9% identified as White, according to data from the Furman Center. Very few businesses in North Brooklyn are Black-owned.
Acknowledging what the neighborhood is lacking is only a small step in pushing Greenpoint towards becoming a more equitable, anti-racist area for neighbors and visitors. To guide White allies in actively making Greenpoint a better place for people of color, Black queer activist and author Kat Vellos shared some words of wisdom and actionable suggestions.
Adjust to an anti-racist vocabulary
Firstly, “Stop calling people of color minorities,” Vellos says. “This term leads to the continual perpetuation of the idea that people of color are less than or that white are superior.” She recommends non-Black allies check out her recent piece, “How non-Black people can be supportive to Black communities” for a better understanding on how to help Black neighbors.
Create an inclusive atmosphere for people of color
There are several (very easy!) ways for White neighbors to be active allies to people of color. Vellos recommends starting with, “Saying hello whenever you pass a person of color on the sidewalk.” A wave and a smile can go a long way. She also suggests dropping off welcoming notes for new neighbors who are people of color. If kids are part of your household, encourage little ones to get to know the new kids, and interact with other young people who are different from them. Most importantly, adults should also “get to know people of color for who they are as whole people,” Vellos says and halt making assumptions about neighbors whom they have yet to interact with personally.
Discuss anti-racism in the community
“The biggest piece of advice I can give right now is that White people need to have conversations that confront subtle and overt racism within their own communities,” Vellos says. “Don’t let racist comments, however subtle, go unchecked. Make prejudice and racism unwelcome in your presence.” Confront racist comments, no matter how casual, by asking friends or neighbors why they expressed the prejudiced statement. Vellos suggests language like, “Does that Bother you? Why?” or “What does that mean to you?”
Address microaggressions head-on
White people can use their privilege to directly address microaggressions, such as a bartender purposefully ignoring a Black patron or a stranger mumbling something inappropriate. “Respond to that behavior directly,” Vellos says. “Say, ‘I noticed that you did X or said X when Y happened. Can you tell me more about why you did that?I feel uncomfortable with that because…xyz reasons, racism is wrong etc”
Offering inclusive alternatives to statements about a neighborhood becoming more diverse can also be a way to pivot towards a safer atmosphere. “Say supportive things like, ‘Thankfully this neighborhood is getting less homogeneou. I want my kids to be able to know and respect all people, and that will be hard if they’re only surrounded by people who are exactly like them,'” Vellos suggests. Another option: “Yeah, I saw that, and I think it’s awesome. How about we invite them to hang out on the stoop with us one day soon?”
For more helpful advice on being a better, anti-racist neighbor, check out Vellos’ book, We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships.