Hello. I’m not exactly sure how you landed here. Perhaps you’re a regular reader of EBONY.com. Maybe you clicked on a link that was randomly shared on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe you just googled “Black guy with opinions” and this was the first thing that popped up. Either way, thank you for stopping by and reading.
Because it’s Tuesday, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re one of those White people who would be considered a sincere “ally.” Maybe we don’t see eye-to-eye on every race-related topic, but you genuinely want for things to be better. You’re aware of structural racism, you know what terms like “white privilege” mean, and you even sought out and read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye after a co-worker recommended it to you. Thank you for that.
I also want to thank you for what you did when you were at your grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving and one of your uncles said something about the “thugs in Ferguson.” I know it took a lot to confront him about that. You could have very easily just shook your head and continued to eat your cranberry sauce. Just like you did last year, when he said some mess about “race-baiters” and Trayvon Martin. But you had enough, and you let him know — in front of everybody — that “thug” is a safe slur for polite racists who don’t want to say nigger in public. You probably won’t be getting a Christmas present from his wife this year. But that’s ok. You can only regift regifted fruitcake but so many times.
Oh, and although no one else seemed to notice, I saw that you participated in the Black Friday boycott too. I know there were quite a few conversations about the reasoning behind the boycott and whether it would actually accomplish anything. But you know that everything — even something as small as choosing to delay your shopping for a couple days — matters. The same argument people used against the boycott could be used against voting and any other important ideal where one person’s contribution is just one of millions. Thank you for realizing that sometimes the principle is the point.
Most recently, I've seen you on the front lines in Ferguson and New York and Chicago and D.C. and every other city where protests are currently happening; marching, organizing, and "dying-in." I saw your tears. I experienced your determination. I felt your rage. We were –shit, we are–allies.
But here's the thing. This might be a hard concept to grasp, so please stay with me. I see that you’ve been pretty active on social media lately, retweeting pieces from EBONY and The Root, sharing statuses about injustice, and even engaging in a spirited conversations about the police. And, in a few of these online discussions, you were the only White person. You were supportive of the cause (as usual), and I even recall you bringing up some really good points that no one else had mentioned yet. But, the reception was a bit chillier than usual. The same thing happened a few weeks ago at work, when you overheard a few Black co-workers near the break room sharing their dismay about President Obama’s reaction to the protests in Ferguson, and you agreed, stating that he wasn’t the person you thought he was when you voted for him.
Although your heart seems to be in the right place, what you need to realize is that sometimes the best way to contribute to these conversations is not to contribute to these conversations at all. Sometimes the wounds are so raw and the outrage is so hot that White inclusion — even well-meaning White inclusion — is not welcome. This is not about a hate for White people, or even a lack of acknowledgement for what White allies can, and often do bring to the table. But the same Whiteness that grants you a pass to hear those casual Thanksgiving Day racist slights can also serve as a conspicuous reminder of the very thing we’re upset about. Not your particular (co-worker, neighbor, college friend) brand of Whiteness, but the general concept of WHITENESS, of White superiority, a notion that has too long been used by America to oppress, degrade and sometimes kill Black people.
Also, sometimes even the well-meaningest White people have a way of making these conversations about them; a tactic that does nothing but reinforce and confirm your privilege. This is how a #Blacklivesmatter hashtag gets transformed into #alllivesmatter. It's how, on a night where Black voices should have dominated the conversation, #crimingwhilewhite — which, admittedly, was a noble and important concept — becomes the most trending topic. I’m not accusing you in particular, but it happens so often, I want you to understand why we’re sensitive to it.
I realize this might seem contradictory. And, well…it is. There are no qualms about that. It's not very fair to ask for and praise your support while also saying your voice isn't always welcome. You have to understand, though, that this is an extremely sensitive topic — perhaps our most sensitive topic — and these are very emotionally charged times. And, while I recognize the unfairness, I'm not apologizing for it. It comes from an honest place. Recognizing the value of our lives also means a recognition of the validity of our feelings.
Let me put it this way: Let’s say you’re a woman who recently broke up with her boyfriend. Actually, the boyfriend left you, after cheating on you with three different women, ruining your credit, and almost getting you fired from work. Oh, and he took your Wu-Tang Forever CD that was personally signed by the GZA. If you decide to go out next weekend, you might just want to hang out with your girls. Nothing against the great men still in your life, but at that particular moment in time, you just don’t really want any of them around. If you remove the CD thievery and cheating and replace it with racial profiling and police brutality, this is kind of how we often feel.
It’s nothing personal. And, in a couple weeks or so, maybe you can join back in. But now just realize that “being an ally” sometimes means “just nod your head and listen.”