While following the Derek Chauvin trial, I’ve noticed one common theme that also struck me immediately following the gruesome killing of George Floyd — White people speaking out against racism after the fact. It seems that a healthy handful of White folks wait to express their outrage and disgust over racial injustice after a highly publicized or sensationalized tragedy takes place. Often, after a new hashtag begins trending on social media, a variety of tweets and posts speaking out against anti-Blackness and anti-Black violence soon follow. Which, I suppose, is fine, but very few extend far beyond their comfort zone in their advocacy efforts. This is not to say that allyship in any form is not helpful, but it’s time to start being clear about what is needed and what ultimately perpetuates White supremacy and further insulates White guilt. Let’s be honest: to combat anti-Blackness in America, we don’t need allies. We need abolitionists.
White allies must move beyond hashtags and DEI professional development training to begin to scratch its surface effectively.
According to The Anti-Oppression Network, allyship involves engaging in efforts that emphasize social justice, inclusion, and human rights by members of an ingroup to advance an oppressed or marginalized outgroup’s interests. When I googled “Black allies,” I found pages filled with articles soliciting the participation of Whites to join various social justice efforts. To be exact, almost 130,000 results populated my screen. Some articles made a strong argument for the importance and need of White allies, while others provided detailed instructions on becoming an effective ally. Conceptually, allyship sounds like it should be the kryptonite to anti-Blackness, yet time and time again, we are reminded that it’s not. Allyship is a vague term, and its ambiguity can lead to various interpretations of what it means to be one.
On the surface, it could be assumed that allyship includes any of the following behaviors:
- Express their concerns and frustrations about racism on social media.
- Speak out against anti-Blackness in real-time.
- Be mindful of using racially inclusive language.
- Be familiar with some of the current and historic forms of oppression that have marginalized Blacks.
- Use their racial privilege to advocate for Blacks.
Just as racism exists and thrives systemically and systematically to oppress the Black community, how we address anti-Blackness must also be systemic and systematic.
While these are great suggestions, they only represent the tip of the iceberg in addressing a much more complex issue. Bigger than that, someone who might come across one of these “how to be a White ally” guides can pick and choose what they feel comfortable doing and call it a day. That might involve engaging in all of the above behaviors or only one. This still leaves a considerable amount to question: how often does an ally engage in these behaviors? On Mondays and Tuesdays, or do Saturdays and every other Sunday suffice?
In other words, at the bare minimum, someone who is White can support their Black co-worker after experiencing racism and walk away feeling as though their allyship itch has been scratched. Or repost a few well-written articles on anti-Blackness, participate in a Black Lives Matter march — and consider themselves an ally.
Yes, it’s great to support marches that promote equity and disagree with racism by verbally supporting Black folks. But when well-intentioned White people who want to make a significant impact in addressing racism conflate engaging in these behaviors with dismantling anti-Blackness, they can walk away with a distorted and inflated sense of accomplishment that absolves them from the continued work that is genuinely needed. Of course, there is no cut and dry way to address anti-Black racism, but just as racism exists and thrives systemically and systematically to oppress the Black community, how we address anti-Blackness must also be systemic and systematic.
Audre Lorde once said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” But for centuries, we have tried to do just that in the fight against racism. Yes, some strides have been made to create new laws that no longer openly discriminate against Blacks. Yet, some of these efforts remain incomplete. For example, federal laws were put into place to protect people of color from discrimination in the workplace after Black activists secured revolutionary civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Federal agencies were then tasked with holding people and institutions accountable for engaging in discrimination. Sadly, these efforts fell flat because lawmakers never fully funded these agencies and even provided exemptions, allowing many employers to continue to discriminate with little accountability. As a result, millions of workers of color continue to experience racial discrimination in employment and wages. Racist language also still appears in some home deeds across America.
It’s clear that anti-Blackness does not only exist on social media or only in misdirected racial jokes at the water cooler while at work. Anti-Black racism is interwoven throughout the fabric of American culture. White allies must move beyond hashtags and DEI professional development training to begin to scratch its surface effectively. The term abolish is defined as “end the observance or effect of (something, such as a law): to completely do away with (something),” and an abolitionist is someone who supports and actively engages in efforts toward this end. This is a different perspective than allyship, which focuses mainly on working within the current system to promote equity. In contrast, abolitionists draw more from Audre Lorde’s sentiments and focus on dismantling current oppressive systems to replace them with more equitable and inclusive structures.
In an ideal world, everyone would be against White supremacy and anti-Blackness. We would gather around a campfire, holding hands and singing kumbaya. But unfortunately, that is not our current reality. And until it is, the fight against anti-Blackness might not always be pretty or nice. It might sometimes require that people become upset with us and that we have to face discomfort in the face on numerous occasions. At times, it might be ugly, messy, and unpleasant. After all, the process of dismantling and rebuilding anything is rarely ever neat and clean. But when we look back at our blood, sweat, and tears, it will be worth it.