#DearWhitePeople - Thoughts on being an "Ally"
Try, please, please try to read this post without defense. Take a deep breath and know that I am not personally attacking YOU. I don't know you. I don't believe you are a bad person. In fact, I actually believe that our truest selves are good, curious, compassionate people. So if you can read this while laying your armor down, I really believe that the goodness in you will respond to these words like a shot of epinephrine. Take a deep breath now...
In recent weeks there has been a lot of information being passed around about systemic racism, classism and the privileges that creates those systems. My newsfeed and timeline have been flooded with a lot of white people gently tiptoeing into a conversation that actually goes on ALL THE TIME, just not in most Caucasian-dominated social circles. One Facebook friend even said, "the last time this was brought up was when Trayvon Martin was killed." In this friend's dominate culture reality, he hasn't had to listen to the outrage of Ferguson over the murder of Mike Brown, or the criminalization of Marissa Alexander or the breach of justice of Eric Garner or the horrors Denise Brown and her 4-year old grandson experienced or the throngs of black and brown bodies enslaved in our mass incarceration system.
It seems that Ferguson has sparked cautious conversation amongst white people around the idea of being an "ally". This term, while not new in the realm of racial equity, seems to have become a buzzword lately as white people try to figure out what to do with concepts that conveniently have been hidden from their viewpoint. The idea was birthed out of a well-intended place that dominate culture should consider issues of race and side with people of color. In and of itself, being an ally can potentially be beneficial for both parties involved by strengthening their fight against their common enemy. However, as a white person, YOU represent the enemy. YOU represent the system that keeps minorities out of reach from opportunities so that you can succeed.
Now, I know you might be thinking right about now...#NotAllWhitePeople. You may be thinking that you don't fit into this category because you're not racists and you believe in equality and all that. I get it. I do. But check out that hashtag a few sentences back and you might be surprised how your self-preservative thinking might be part of the problem. So if you are setting up your arsenal right now for why you aren't racist and how you're an "ally" because you have black friends or you have a half-Asian cousin, this next part is for you.
Being an "ally" is really only another, more dressed-up version of hero-mentality that inadvertently says that PoC can't experience equity without white allies sticking up for them. Being an "ally" is rooted in the reality and faulty belief system that white people have always been and therefore, always will be at the center of what is good and right and moral and just. Being an "ally" often means that white people get to say what is or isn't racist, sexist, classist etc. Being an "ally" puts YOU, your actions and convictions at the center of making things right. It's just another path on the same journey that keeps minorities on the margins, voiceless until we give them permission to speak.
In my own personal life, over the past several years, I have been coming to terms with my own deeply-seated racism and my ignorant complicity with all kinds of systems of oppression. This is a terrifying and heart-breaking realization to go through. Believe me, I had the instinct to run from this realization. To dismiss it as "I didn't know so it's not really racism". My own self-preservative predisposition was to listen to well-meaning advice of my loved ones to "not be so hard on myself". But if I didn't give myself the chance to sit in the discomfort of what I was taught and subconsciously believed and lived out, I would never have had to opportunity to begin building a new belief system from scratch. A belief system where it was necessary to have PoC do the informing. As a result, I have sought out education by and relationships with PoC who have graciously and many times sternly, with righteous anger, helped me see how very ineffective ally-ship actually is.
I have become increasingly interested in being a co-conspirator in the fight against oppression [in this case, against PoC]. The difference for me is that I can stand back and support my minority culture friends who are leading the battle and rely on them to know how to do it in a way that makes sense to them. It de-centers ME and puts PoC at the rightful helm of the cause of justice and equity.
Some would say that even the term "fighting" for justice is counter-active to peace. I disagree. MLK says, "Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice." You cannot have actual peace, real-long-lasting-soul-pervading-unexplainable peace until you get at the root of what is disturbing that peace. Conflict isn't the absence of peace but it is often the path we tread towards it.
#DearWhitePeople, can we let our minority culture brothers and sisters lead us? Are we humble enough to admit how we've participated in their demise? Are we courageous enough to plumb the darkest parts of our hearts and see how we've participated in hate, even unknowingly? Can we feel the sorrow of that, without running away, until it compels us to true repentance? Can we openly, honestly admit our wrongs so that we can begin the long path towards reconciliation?
If you like the idea of being an "ally" then go talk to ten people of color and ask them how they feel about you being their "ally". Listen. Really listen. Dig deep into the recesses of your self-control and let people of color tell you what that means to them. I believe having actual conversations with actual people who actually experience oppression would be very eye-opening for dominate culture to experience.
I truly believe in our inherent goodness as people. Let that goodness rise up in you and let it lead you to eradicate the things hidden in your heart that keep our culture from healing from the ravaging disease of oppression. I believe in you.
With heart-breaking and bold love,