There’s a discussion among BIPOC about whether there is and can be such as thing as a “white ally”. Of course, many white people who march and sign petitions and rant on Twitter and Facebook do believe they are an ally to non-whites. But, like the definition of racism, white people do not get to decide that. And, even when one BIPOC tells a white person that they’re an ally, another may stress that they‘re not.
More people of color are adamant that there can never be a white “ally”. But why? Where is it that white people are failing BIPOC? In order to do better, they need to understand where they have fallen short or failed. So here’s a couple of reasons that the “white ally” may not exist.
No Justice No Ally
“To refuse to listen to someone’s cries for justice and equality until the request comes in a language you feel comfortable with is a way of asserting your dominance over them in the situation.” — Ijeoma Oluo.
This is tone policing, the “both sides” in all its incarnations. From the white person who stresses they agree with you but, could you “just say it nicer” or “not be so angry”. This not only shifts the focus from the brutalization and marginalization of non-whites in this country, it erases the original issue and focuses the “white issue” of how we convey our pain about seeing and experiencing this treatment. To you, before you are willing to talk about the issue we must first say it nicely.
These are also the white people who, when a Black person or other person of color questions the police and is violently arrested, they stress — again — that while the actions of the cops were “horrible”, “why didn’t they [BIPOC] just do what the cops wanted and fight it out in court”.
This demonstrates to us a white person’s (aka your) privilege because a) you try to find fault with the BIPOC for being victims of police brutality, b) you find fault because a person of color dares to ask questions or isn’t speaking nicely, and c) you believe the courts operate and benefit BIPOC in the same way it coddles white people.
You either haven’t been paying attention or you have not read up on the systematic and systemic targeting of non-whites that has existed since this country’s inception.
This country was built on our suffering. And a “white ally” should know better.
Label Without Effort
“the only thing worse than a bigot is an “ally” who can’t stop congratulating themselves on their enlightenment” — Julio Alexi Genao
What are your reasons for wanting the label of “ally”? Is it because it’s currently trending among your gentrified peers? Which matters more? Self-appointing yourself an “ally” with minimal or no effort/discomfort or receiving that label from BIPOC who recognize your efforts — both micro and macro — to elevate, stand beside and, at times, in front of them because it is, morally, the right choice?
This centers whiteness. You don’t want to help. You just want the title.
You want accolades for agreeing with us. You want a thank you for all those petitions you signed and marches you attend.
But how many times have you confronted a store manager or staff for following a Black person around? How many times have you shut down a family member who complained about the “immigrant taking all our jobs”? How many times have you called out a coworker for invalidating the experiences of a coworker of color?
If you are not confronting racism/whiteness, including your own, in your day-to-day life you are not an ally.
And please, stop seeking a thank you. This implies you are doing us a favor. Helping BIPOC is not only morally right, but it helps you and everyone else in this country.
Mass incarceration targets people of color; the cost of keeping people of color enslaved and stripping them of citizenship costs this country, and its citizens, almost $200 billion — $200,000,000,000.
Giving subpar education to entire swaths of people, and curtailing their access to higher education, limits our ability as a country to compete on a global scale and all of this will only worsen with time.
Do Your Research, Learn From Your Mistakes & Don’t Expect A Pass
“The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing” — James Baldwin
Needless to say, the time for dismissing white people’s ignorance has passed. This is a social media age and if you are trying to sell the fact you “don’t know any better” you are not just ignorant. You are willfully ignorant and therefore, still to blame. Too often white people ask to be educated by a person of color (without compensating them for their time) because they lack the conviction to do the work themselves.
A simple google search on “intersectionality” will give you info of what it means to exist at the intersection of marginalized categories. You can easily find the author, in that same search who created the word and purchase her books to learn more. Your desire to educate yourself would literally put your money where your mouth is because you would be paying a Black woman for her expertise.
A search of “mass incarceration books” will give you one of if not the best by Michelle Alexander. Want to know about “white fragility” and whether you suffer from it? A google search of books will give you that as well.
There is too much information readily available. If you are following BIPOC on social media and you’re not sure what they’re talking about you can easily find the info for yourself.
As already stated in previous pieces, mistakes will be made; it’s expected. But you have to understand that you don’t get a pass just because of the time you’ve already put in.
Previous efforts don’t minimize the current pain you’ve caused a particular group. In order to learn, you need to sit with your mistake, reflect and identify where you (in your thought process) went wrong. That’s what we need to combat racism, whiteness and white supremacy.
You have to reframe how your mind interprets information — i.e. stop looking at it from a ‘whiteness’ framework. You also need to sit in the discomfort. If you want to be an ally, both micro and macro, you will face uncomfortable situations. So practice sitting in the discomfort. Both of these will limit the chance that, when presented with a similar situation in the future, you will have the same thoughts that lead down to harming the group you want to help.
Just like growing and learning never ends, becoming an “ally” is a continued process. You will never reach a point where you will be labeled an “ally” and not be at risk of losing that label. But mistakes made can be atoned for through words and acts that demonstrate you: understand where you erred, and are working to do better.
Is there a white “ally”? Many don’t believe it, but you, through education and growth, could be the ones to prove us wrong.