Following in the wake of news of the tragic deaths of a rash of young black lives under the police and then the release of those police from any sense of accountability, the conscience of a nation is starting to arise.
Many new people are joining anti-racist marches, are sharing tweets and Facebook posts about anti-black injustice, are jumping in the fray and declaring that “Black Lives Matter.”
In the scope of mobilizing, this is a good aspect of having a highly organized, dynamic, intelligent, and vigorous social media organism like Black Twitter1 – the sting of the de-humanifying effects of police brutality towards Black people is alleviated somewhat by the fact that (White) people are now listening, now being involved, now joining the efforts. But in the face of so many brand new allies, we must clarify that there are ways to be good anti-racist allies and easy ways to be bad anti-racist allies. Whiteness has such a gripping effect on us that we do not recognize how many ways that we carry it with us. So, to assist, these are guidelines to be good allies2:
11. Primarily remember that this is not about you. You are not the most important aspect of the struggle. In fact, if you start to act like you are or think you are, please remove yourself. There is no such thing as an indispensable ally and any White ally who drowns out People of Color they’re supposed to be helping is enabling and practicing White Supremacy. This is the very thing we are working against.
10. Follow the leads of those you are supposed to be allying yourself with. Do not step over them. Do not draw attention to yourself. Do not make this in any way, shape or form about you. Activism should be about a cause, not a personal ego or a campaign to bolster your personal profile.
9. I know it’s hard for many of us, but don’t waste a lot of time and energy arguing with sock puppets and trolls and others who will not be convinced. We’re trying to make a social movement for change, not convince everyone that we’re right. Social movements need a strong organized core of mobilized people and a wider public who are in positions to help (letter writing, getting attention of politicians and corporations, mass demonstrations, etc). Arguing against psychopaths, and drawing others into those arguments, is more-often-than-not a drain on positive movement. I say this as a recovering engager in such arguments, but I’m learning.
8. Speaking of being right, you may have really good opinions about current events. You may also have good arguments and you want to share them as often and in as many places as you can. They may be helpful – but remember that we are not in this for arguing. Fundamentally, we are not talking opinions – these are people’s lives. Black people are not opinions – there are not two sides to black existence in the United States. The structural, fundamental argument here is that black people should be treated as human beings and not as property, not as inferior. It’s about basic respect and there are no two sides to argue about here.
7. Do not, do not, do not, do not invoke Martin Luther King, Jr. to Black people. If you do, it is likely you’ve only learned about him through snippets. King is not The Official African American Spokesmodel ©. Additionally, he came to understand why rioting would happen in Northern cities after he saw the various violent but silent tactics of federal and local governments 3. But more to the point, if you haven’t felt the frustration and threats and violence upon your own bodies, your own economic life, your own families (and you haven’t), don’t lecture. If you have (and if you’re white, you haven’t) don’t lecture anyway. Lead by example.
6. Don’t speak for others or over them. Don’t take the megaphone. Black people have voices. Especially if you’re new to this, it is high-time to listen.
5. No one owes you an education and no one on Twitter is getting paid for it. There is information out there, but People of Color on social media are not there to be your friends or your librarians. Please do not demand to be educated and do not take any education for granted. As much as is possible, Google and read. It takes longer, I know, but it’s your work and you can own it.
4. I saw way too many White Liberals shun and try to silence Black people over their grief of Trayvon now coming back and trying to rebrand themselves as Racial Justice Warriors. You’re gonna have to earn trust. Some people are going to be angry with you, and you’re gonna have to take those lumps for now if you’re honest about being on the side of racial justice. Remember, ultimately it’s not about you.
3. Use your talents, gifts and skills where they are best applied. Can you help bond people out after they’ve been unjustly jailed? Can you make t-shirts or art projects? Can you write or call your local politicians about police harassment and incarceration in your hometown? What else can you do? Here’s a few ideas.
2. Aim to be – and not just be called – an ally. Preferably, work to be an accomplice. Accomplices recognize that White Supremacy is the Law, and want to help pull off a heist of it.
1. Finally, be kind to yourself. The work will continue when you sleep, when you do yoga, when you watch Nova or Real Housewives or Scandal, when you hang out with lovers and friends. Whatever you need to do to take care of yourself and come back energized to fight later, do that. The moral arc is long, they say.
1 Without Black Twitter, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Mike Brown – these names would have faded into the background and the media would have never known nor cared.
2 While this list is specifically geared towards new (and some old) anti-racism allies, I’ve seen many of these infracted by new and long-term allies for LGBTQ people as well.
3 “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” – King, “Beyond Vietnam”
Latest posts by jasdye (see all)
- Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech Is More than One Sentence Long - January 18, 2015
- 5 Predictions for the Progressive Movement in 2015 - January 3, 2015
- What the Best Movies of the Past Year Taught Me about Politics - December 31, 2014