Black folks are tired. I mean worn out, depleted, and exhausted. The marathon of life and the hate we experience has got us debilitated. Drained of power and desire to talk with white folks about what it means to be Black, our struggle, and attempting to justify why we should not be terrorized. We are out of ways to tell white America why we are deserving of respect and peace. Black people cannot describe our lives enough. We have said everything and done everything. It is over. This is the time for the ally.
The word ally is a trendy term that is bandied about these days. It’s cool to use and to call yourself that, but many people don’t know what it really means. I first heard “ally” being used when I started to participate in San Francisco activism when I moved there in 2013. I would attend marches and rallies denouncing police terrorism, and young white people would say “I am an ally!” I would think, “What the hell is that?” I later found out white people who went to these actions called themselves allies. It was a way to say, “Hey I care! I am out here marching with Black people against the sanctioned killings they receive on behalf of the police.” I appreciated that; for me it was cool seeing white men and women of all ages stand up for us. However, after the marches, white folks would go back to their homes, jobs, friends, and go on living their lives. Once the actions stopped, their actions stopped. It seemed being an ally only lasted an hour or two and that was it.
As a Black person who is a victim of racism, the term ally means doing something and not being. For me, an ally’s responsibility is this: To fight against the oppression of non-white people in public and private. That means not only protesting and attending rallies, but also calling out ones who are closest to you who may perpetuate racism, and recognizing your own racism. That is the key. It is easy to be a part of a collective fighting against a corporate entity that may be dumping poison in predominately African American neighborhoods, or staging a sit-in at a government agency because they tear apart undocumented families, but the real work is confronting your Mom and Dad at dinner when they say “Black on Black Crime” is the real issue why African-American’s “are not ahead.” Or debunking claims of unwed African-American mothers being the main recipients of welfare.
When I hear stories of white people being among their families or friends and a racist remark is made or someone casually says “nigger,” I often ask them, “What do you do about it?” Most of the answers I receive are, “Well that’s how my family is”, “I am shocked that they would say that” or “I just walk away.” Whenever I hear these responses, I call bullshit. Rarely do I ever hear someone say, “I correct them right on the spot.” It is as if their allyship is performative acts, and not the meat and potatoes. They don’t understand that a big part of being an ally is challenging people on what they say and believe. While I don’t think race is a difficult topic to bring up – I talk about it every day, I try and put myself in the shoes of the man who hears a joke about Latinos. You know that shit ain’t right, but what do you do? If you say something, it could start an argument. People could turn their backs on you and you lose friendships and relationships with family. I can see how it would be difficult to divorce yourself from family members who are racist. You love them, have grown up with them, shared special times with them, made memories, but if you are around them while they spew racist language or commit racial acts, how much better are you than them? I made a decision a long time ago to not be around people who are homophobic. I have too many loved ones who are LGBTQ, so how would I look being friends with people who disparage them?
Being an ally is doing; allyship is a verb. Being an ally means challenging other’s words and actions. Even if they are friends, coworkers, family members, and loved ones. You can’t scream Black Lives Matter, date Black people, and spend time with folks that hurl racial slurs. How do you call yourself a feminist and you are not speaking up for Black women? White women came out in droves in support of porn actress Stormy Daniels, but are very quiet when President Donald Trump called former White House Aide Omarosa Manigault a dog. We ain’t in math class, but that don’t add up. We need white people to shame one another when it comes to racism. There needs to be an absolute zero tolerance policy.
Allyship is also looking inward. It’s great that you participate in actions, speak up for those who do not have a voice, and correct people on their verbiage, but this is also a process of correcting yourself. Being an ally means that you are susceptible to racism. We live in a system of white supremacy; that means all white people are affected by this. You could be the most conscience, progressive person you know and still harbor racist thoughts. No one is immune. The key is to recognize this and check yourself every time these thoughts rear their ugly heads. Allyship is constant self-improvement.
When the truth is learned, eyes begin to open. From there, it is responsibility to educate others. Being an ally is about education – informing others when their actions are not correct. It is not accepting bad behavior. Being an ally is about pushing the truth, recognizing the faults in others and yourself, and the desire to fix it. This road is not easy. Allyship can be lonely and hard, but infinitely rewarding. For those of us who want to do the right thing and be on the side of right, this is the way to do it.