Thank you. Thank you for having a heart for justice and equality. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for doing work. And thank you for being open minded and unfettered by your defenses as you read this beseeching to reconsider your allyship.
As of late, I have been both encouraged and deeply, deeply troubled by the convergence of white allyship with the fight for Black liberation and an end to police brutality. Encouraged because it is galvanizing to see masses of white people feeling called to action around a cause the likely does not directly effect them, but troubled because their participation in many cases has resulted in a co-opting of the message, and the movement. Troubled because often times, I find that white people unintentionally hang their allyship over the heads of the oppressed, as if it is a privilege that must be earned through good behavior, or that they hang their participation on their ability to control the message.
This is an inherent part of the problem that we are fighting against.
One of the biggest examples of this is the insistence by many white allies to use the phrase "All lives matter" in lieu of the message "Black lives matter," and the arguing or inserting of this message over the voices of those who the movement represents. Listen, I get it. Saying "Black lives matter," it's uncomfortable to you. It feels, unrelated to you. And that's because it is. And it's supposed to be. Let me explain to you why: Historically, white life has not been undervalued or dehumanized. Period. Currently, we live within a system that was created by White Supremacist principles. Yes. White supremacy. It doesn't have to mean white hoods, nooses, burning crosses, and the Aryan Nation. The systems in this country were created to support and sustain the white people. For my white women folk, white supremacy is as fundamental to this country's systems as patriarchy, Hopefully, that provides some perspective for you. With this being said, no argument needs to be made that "All" (which really equates to "white too!") lives matter, because from a systemic perspective, the value of white life is not, and never has been, in question. It is a given that white life in this country is valuable. This is not the case with black life. Black life in this country is often viewed as inherently less valuable, even sub or non-human. This is evidenced by the way Darren Wilson talked about Michael Brown in his ill advised interview, referring to Mike as a demon. So here's the long and short of it: The insistence that "All lives matter" over the message that "Black lives matter," is racist. You are derailing and decentering the important conversation about the devaluing of black lives in America and thereby silencing the voices of the very people you are claiming to be allies of. You are participating in black erasure, actively exercising (and ignoring) your white privilege, and thereby, being racist. Even though you mean well. Even though you are at the march. Even though you are holding signs, and chanting, and have black friends.
Let me provide a parallel:
You wouldn't go to a Lupus benefit and demand that the speakers acknowledge heart disease. You wouldn't go to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure with a tee shirt that says "All Cancer Matters!" Not because all cancer doesn't matter, but because well, we aren't talking about all cancer right now. We are talking about breast cancer. And because that's not what you're there for. You are there to show your love and support to people who have suffered from breast cancer. Period. So for you to try and make the conversation about anything other than breast cancer, would be insensitive and selfish. It's hard for us to conceptualize this at times in the context of the "Black lives matter" movement however, because the message that is being preached, despite it's truth, is one that doesn't include us. It is uncomfortable to subscribe to because we don't understand where we fit into it. And that's because it's not meant to serve or represent us. For that reason, being involved in this movement is going to be unavoidably uncomfortable for you. And you have to be OK with that.
Please understand, it is OK (and frankly, important) for you to feel uncomfortable in your participation in this movement at times. You will squirm. You will not know what to say. You will not know what to do. I myself, feel incredibly awkward when someone says to raise your fists in the air. I get scared that I am going to do or say something, with the best intentions, that is offensive. There will be moments when you want to run the other way and head for the hills. And that is absolutely normal, and OK. That is the nature of being a white person who is involved in this cause. But please, hang in there.
I am going to provide a few important guidelines to understand when identifying as a white ally. Because I am a Christian, I am going to do my best to be gentle about it, as that is what God instructs me to do. However, I am also going to be straightforward and honest with you. So here we go:
1. If your allyship is contingent upon how you are treated or how you feel, you are not an ally.
It is important to understand that some black people are angry. And many of them are angry with white people. This is not a personal attack on YOU. You must decentralize yourself and depersonalize people's reactions to you. You need to understand, and accept, that not everyone is going to receive you with open arms. And that is OK. They don't have to. This should not impact your commitment to social justice and equality.
2. Our job, as white people, is not to dictate to people how to get free while our proverbial foot is on their necks.
Our only job lies in listening, and then aiding as requested, and stepping aside when suggested. We should not be trying to insert ourselves into spaces and conversations that we are not invited to or welcomed in. We should not be trying to control bullhorns and megaphones. We should be making space for people's whose voices are underrepresented and often unheard. We should be helping other "allies" learn how to become better allies. But we should never, under any circumstances, be trying to control or lead the narrative.
3. Your voice should never be louder than that of the people you are supporting, and should never stand in the place of those voices.
Think of it this way: You are a back up singer to the movement. Your voice should be merely serve as a part of the chorus, supporting the leading roles in the play, if you will.
4. This is not a photo op or your nightly news debut.
If you are only here for (or even mainly here for) the pictures to post on IG and FB, or are itching for a reporter to interview so you can share your righteousness with the prime time audience, go home. This is not what we're here for.
5. Save your "I totally understand cause once I got made fun of fr being white" stories.
This is not empathy, it is racism. As a rule of thumb: if the conversation is about black people, it is safe to assume it would be both inappropriate and racist to start talking about your experience as a white person, or anything else to do with white people.
6. One of the best ways you can help in this movement is by educating your fellow white people on how to be an effective "ally."
Aka: Teach other white folks how not to be a racist jerk (both intentionally and completely unintentionally) so that black people don't have to keep spending their time trying to teach their oppressors how to set them free. And if a black person is so kind and patient as to take the time to explain to you...
7. SHUT THE HELL UP AND LISTEN.
Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly,
8. Stop being a fucking ally!
If you have been wondering why I have been using quotation marks around the word ally throughout this article, it is because I do not believe in the concept of allyship. Allyship implies condition and impermanence rather than a true belief in and commitment to the movement and the cause, despite the possibility (and probability) of discomfort, inconvenience, and the potential for being received less than pleasantly. Don't be an ally. Be a brother. Be a sister. Be a shoulder. Be a hand. Show the people you are standing with that you are standing firmly be their sides, that this is about them, and not you, and that you are OK with that.
Thank you. Thank you for having a heart for justice and equality. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for doing work. And thank you for being open minded and unfettered by your defenses as you read this beseeching to reconsider your allyship. I love you.
Now go throw out your "All lives matter" signs. Please.
Your white non-ally friend