Black Voices Matter 2: Allyship

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September 17, 2020 by Cláudia

This post is part of a series called Black Voices Matter, in which I step aside and let Black voices at the forefront of the movement take the stage. This month, the post is focused on allyship and will hopefully give non-Black readers a better idea on how to use privilege and interact with racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Please follow the links to find the full pieces.

An ally is someone from a nonmarginalized group who uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group. They transfer the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it. Performative allyship, on the other hand, is when someone from that same nonmarginalized group professes support and solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful or that actively harms that group. Performative allyship usually involves the “ally” receiving some kind of reward — on social media, it’s that virtual pat on the back for being a “good person” or “on the right side.”

I understand the urge to say something, especially when people are reminding you that to be silent is to be complicit. But the problem with performative allyship is not that it in itself damages, but that it excuses. It excuses privileged people from making the personal sacrifices necessary to touch the depth of the systemic issues it claims to address. If you hashtagged #sayhisname, you’ve done your bit, right? You’ve publicly declared you stand against racism and therefore can check that off your to-do list. Wrong.

Simply “saying stuff” is easy. You know what’s hard? Not buying stuff you want because the supply chain is violent. Turning down a job because the company employs child labor in Africa. Calling out other white people when they say something clearly racist. That shit is hard. But if you want to be a true ally to BIPOC, you have to be willing to do it. Anyone can post hashtags on social media. And the fact that this is seen as an act of activism is deadly.

Holiday Phillips, Performative allyship is deadly (here’s what to do instead)

Even if they [white people] can hear you, they’re not really listening. It’s like something happens to the words as they leave my mouth and reach their ears. The words hit a barrier of denial and they don’t get any further.

That’s the emotional disconnect. It’s not really surprising, because they’ve never known what it means to embrace a person of colour as a true equal, with thoughts and feelings that are as valid as their own.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

The role of an ally is to make room for people of colour to lead the work that is needed and allies to follow and help amplify their voices – not speak for them… or over them. It’s an iterative process that calls for constant reflection during this defining movement and for the future. There’s no subscribe or unsubscribe button for allyship but it is about continuously learning beyond your comfortability and expanding your growth zone when it comes to not just racism but abelism, sexism, understanding why heterosexism is problematic.

It is a lifelong process that involves listening and understanding lived experiences of marginalised peoples and taking it upon yourself to lead a life that challenges systematic oppression and work towards helping dismantle structural and systematic barriers that aid these systems of subjugation.

Denise Nishimwe, Allyship: Keep the momentum going

When things get real — really murderous, really tragic, really violent or aggressive — my white, liberal, educated friends already know what to do. What they do is read. And talk about their reading. What they do is listen. And talk about how they listened.

What they do is never enough. This isn’t the time to circle up with other white people and discuss black pain in the abstract; it’s the time to acknowledge and examine the pain they’ve personally caused. Black people live and die every day under the burdens of a racism more insidious than the current virus that’s also disproportionately killing us. And yet white people tend to take a slow route to meaningful activism, locked in familiar patterns, seemingly uninterested in really advancing progress.

The right acknowledgment of black justice, humanity, freedom and happiness won’t be found in your book clubs, protest signs, chalk talks or organizational statements. It will be found in your earnest willingness to dismantle systems that stand in our way — be they at your job, in your social network, your neighborhood associations, your family or your home. It’s not just about amplifying our voices, it’s about investing in them and in our businesses, education, political representation, power, housing and art. It starts, also, with reflection on the harm you’ve probably caused in a black person’s life. It may have happened when you were 10, 16, 22, 36 or 42. Comforting as it may be to read and discuss the big questions about race and justice and America, making up for past wrongs means starting with the fact that you’ve done wrong in the past, perhaps without realizing it at the time: in the old workplace, neighborhood, classroom, softball field. Maybe even the book club.

The confusing, perhaps contradictory advice on what white people should do probably feels maddening. To be told to step up, no step back, read, no listen, protest, don’t protest, check on black friends, leave us alone, ask for help or do the work — it probably feels contradictory at times. And yet, you’ll figure it out. Black people have been similarly exhausted making the case for jobs, freedom, happiness, justice, equality and the like. It’s made us dizzy, but we’ve managed to find the means to walk straight.

Tre Johnson, When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs

We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist. We seem to think that true racism only exists in the hearts of evil people. We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power. When a large proportion of the population votes for politicians and political efforts that explicitly use racism as a campaigning tool, we tell ourselves that such huge sections of the electorate simply cannot be racist, as that would render them heartless monsters. But this isn’t about good and bad people.

This is what structural racism looks like. It is not just about personal prejudice, but the collective effects of bias. It is the kind of racism that has the power to drastically affect people’s life chances. These highly educated, high-earning white men are very likely to be in positions that influence others’ lives – teaching, prosecuting, examining college applicants and hiring staff. They are almost certainly the kind of people who set workplace cultures.

They are unlikely to boast about their politics with colleagues or acquaintances because of the social stigma attached to holding racist views. Their racism is covert. It doesn’t reveal itself in spitting at strangers in the street. Instead, it lies in an apologetic smile while telling a non-white employee that they didn’t get the promotion. It manifests itself in a CV tossed in the bin because the applicant has a foreign-sounding name. Racism is woven into the fabric of our world. This demands a collective redefinition of what it means to be racist and what we must do to end it.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

Black Lives cannot matter to you, if you think Black people don’t have a right to voice our various opinions about things.

Black Lives cannot matter to you if you are attacking someone on the internet because they talk about racism in a way you don’t like.

Black Lives can’t matter to you if you are willing to ignore someone’s thoughts and experiences with antiblackness because they don’t make it palatable to you.

Stitch Talks Ish, When Black Lives Matter, but Black opinions don’t

This post is a product of the commitment I made to make anti-racism an integral part of my life, both online and offline. For the past months, I have immersed myself in writings, podcasts and videos about racism, white supremacy and intersectionality. It’s been a humbling journey, filled with discomfort, pain, outrage, shame and fear of overstepping. With these posts, I hope to share some resources that help others on their own path towards anti-racism and to use my platform to amplify Black thinkers, bloggers and activists.

Find the other posts of this series:

I have been reading testimonies from Black transgender people, especially Black trans women and I think it would be really important to do a post of this series with their voices and experiences. Unfortunately, so far I have not found enough Black trans writers and bloggers in order to compile a full list of diverse resources. I will keep looking, but if you follow a Black trans author/blogger/activist that you would like to see here, please let me know. Greatly appreciate it!

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