Confessions of a Black Ally to White Allies
A story popped into my recommendations on Medium — Confessions of a White Woman with Privilege, something along those lines. Although I was having one of those days where reading about white angst would really be the cherry on top of a shit sundae, I decided to peruse the tale of this white woman’s woes. It was everything I thought it would be and more, in terms of melodrama and mediocrity. I didn’t leave feeling more enthusiastic about white allies. Then again, that ship sailed a loooong time ago.
I struggle with the concept of allyship. I assume all the white people who follow me on Medium are allies, either that or Republican spies. Every time I get a new one, there’s a whole thought pattern. First, I’m excited — a new follower! Oh, a white person…probably an ally, yay. Sigh. Where are the black people? Where are the black people in cyberspace? Where are the black people with phone plans and enough spare income and desire to have a monthly magazine subscription? Where are the black working moms and the black men in the hood, where are the black people who appreciate cynical literature in the western world? Will my target audience ever read my words? Or will they always be too busy with the pressures of staying alive in a hostile world, with too little time for lofty philosophizing?
Of course, I’m glad for whoever cares to read my writing, but the frustration is real. As a child I always wondered who on earth had money to buy albums from black musicians. I’m still too poor for a lot of paid entertainment, as much as I try to support black artists, singers and business-people. Sometimes the bulk of their revenue comes from white people. Watching Rhythm and Flow on Netflix, you can’t help but notice when the conversation shifts to what type of rap “scares” white people, what kind of artist will appeal to “mainstream” audiences, or who the white collar executives at record labels could see making them the most money. If white people not only own the means of production, but also boast the most disposable income, much of what we do has to cater to them as well, especially if profits is the main goal.
For me as a writer, this creates enormous pressure to appeal to them. Meanwhile, everything inside me absolutely refuses to pander to a white ego. Occasionally I wonder if a sentence is too harsh, for example see above where I called the lady’s article melodramatic and mediocre. In my craft, I seek to never be unnecessarily mean, even when condemning white supremacy. The main reason is because a reader can pick up on when you’re just being cruel for cruelty’s sake and that turns them off. Another reason is that I worry about hurting white people’s feelings. If something feels like a vicious attack, it could well turn them off, causing me to lose half my audience.
However, these feelings are difficult to navigate. Part of me believes that slipping a subtle jab in here and there serves a couple important purposes. It is primarily a small reversal of power, since reading a minor insult on the internet pales in comparison to living a life of insults. Then, it is a sting to remind them that although they are here, reading, observing, spectating or “doing the work”, as the case may be, we owe them absolutely nothing. Not politeness, not kindness and certainly not gratitude. While I want people to become anti-racist, I don’t want them to do it for show, for everyone to look and see that they are such a good white liberal, such an ally, such a beacon of morality in La La Land. I don’t want them to do it for the perks. I don’t want them to do it because that will make me like them more, or give me hope for humanity. White people should be actively anti-racist because they want to, because it’s the right thing to do. Black people being good hosts as we welcome them to the fight is A LOT to ask. It’s a reach, as we say. After all, that’s a good way to look at it. They are guests to our eternal struggle; we live in the realm of having to be experts on race, they are merely guests in that space.
Some guests can choose to stay indefinitely. Some guests are browsing what’s trendy and trying revolution on for size. Some are trying to escape the endless mundane of throwing tea parties and eating scones, ultimately seeking more depth and dimension to the silver spoon life. But the great thing about being a guest is the ability to leave whenever you want. You can check out both physically and mentally.
Me? I’m stuck here forever. My means of escape is death or a strange sort of willful insanity. Let me explain. I’ll stop having to consider my blackness when I’m dead, and maybe have spirit world problems instead. The next option is to become the type of black person who makes a concerted effort to ignore racial injustice. This can happen consciously, which would be the case at first, then hopefully subconsciously, as I will myself to accept that I am doomed to a life of second-class citizenship, and live my life accordingly. To hell with the headache of fighting the status quo. For me, that would look like watching Frozen with my (hypothetical) little girls. Wearing a 30 inch Malaysian weave rather than forcing myself to style this forest of curls every day. Working myself into a rage over the patriarchy, tampon tax, and Trump’s pussy grabbing. Binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale, reading the biography of Ruth Bader Gainsburg, and building a shrine to Greta Thunberg. Remembering that I’m a woman. Mulling over how unfair womanhood is, with the comforting knowledge that white women are loving the brand of feminism I’m selling, and for that reason alone, my writing could get somewhere.
Being a black ally to white allies evokes a lot of conflicting emotions. I am happy that white allies exist. But, their existence does not erase their whiteness, and I very much echo their existential crisis of not knowing what to do with that disturbing fact. While they wallow in the murky acceptance of being able to “only do so much”, I look on in amused annoyance. It’s just funny how creative they were in strategizing, organizing and executing evil for 400 years, but when it comes to repairing all the harm done, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Colonization didn’t happen overnight either, genius. Nor was it the work of one lone zealot. What makes you all think that eliminating racism is too astronomical to be undertaken? Back in the day, white people would sit around for hours discussing how they could undermine black children, and by golly they did not rest until the work was carried out to perfection. Suddenly, when it comes to matters of equality, they simply don’t know what to do.
Another complication arises when they finally do figure out what to do, though. After months or years of scouring the available literature, speaking with black colleagues and comrades about their experiences, and studying racism to some degree, a handful of them get an idea, for a book, let’s say, or a non profit. Being white, as we all know, the doors open more easily. The fundraising is seamless. The words have a particular sheen, the message a particular bravery coming from such an unlikely source. Ah, a white person who cares about racial justice! A white person we can all admire, learn from, look up to. Trust to lead us into the pearly gates of The Black Revolution. The White Savior we didn’t know we needed.
Of course, the white ally understood the irony of championing the cause when the cause is to not be championed for being white. But she did it anyway. Because a white person can reach another white person on matters of race where a black person can’t. Because if whiteness opens doors, it might as well open the doors to the case against whiteness opening doors.
For a black person, it’s not that spectacular when we harp on and on about racism. It affects us, naturally we would care. Naturally we would want to uplift our people. It’s just not as amazing as when a white person does it. For a variety of reasons, the messenger is equally as important as the message.
So excuse me if I don’t applaud when you say Black Lives Matter. Excuse me if I don’t fall over myself to be nice to you. Forgive me if something I write rubs you the wrong way. I’m 100% still your ally, and we’re all in this together.