On Whether You Can Be A White Ally

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months, and the sacrifice of Heather Heyer, a white woman who was killed protesting against the alt-right last Saturday, kinda brought it to a head.

I think that there are decent white allies, and I cannot say to white people, “You are not part of this struggle.”

You do not understand this struggle completely. You never will.

But I have a half-white nephew and niece. We’re family.

And when it comes down to it, as controversial as this opinion may be…the truth is that black and white people…we’re family.

I will recognize black people and white people who fight for equality. I am not colorblind. I just don’t have it in me to distance myself as much as some urge. I am not saying this rejection of separation is necessarily wrong or right; it is simply my constitution.

But I also think it is necessary to say why it is difficult to trust white allies….

Here’s the problem: If you are white, you don’t know what it means to give up white privilege.

To various degrees, depending on our varying backgrounds — but nearly all of us, universally — we black people in America know what it means.

I have seen enough of what white privilege means in America to be taken aback by white people who think they want to give up white privilege. I have some idea of how much white privilege depends, not just on overtly demeaning us, but also in perpetuating our inferior status by pitying us, marginalizing us, valuing our opinions as inferior to theirs, patronizing us, and the zillion ways that it inserts its superiority in our culture.

And, knowing this, and knowing how much I would be giving up if I actually were white…it is difficult for me to imagine being white, and wanting to fight against racism. Because as a black man I have some idea of how that superiority would feel, in ways I wouldn’t even notice if I were white because I took it for granted.

Hell, we black people know the value of white privilege so well that we have trouble trusting ourselves and each other, out of suspicion we’re trying to please it. Really. “White privilege” isn’t a cutesy or radical-trendy concept we discuss over crumpets and tea when we suspect each other of trying to pay homage to it. It brings tears, anger, and pain. If that happens among each other, how much more would it happen in relation to someone who was born white?

And that’s the great fear many have of white allies. That maybe the ally thought getting rid of racism was exotic, or cute, or trendy, or fashionably radical, or hippy-culture, or nice, or was playing around with privilege as a mere rallying talking point that won’t REALLY affect them and the way they think about themselves. Maybe they think that it’s about how they are going to overcome THOSE PEOPLE — those OTHER racist whites — not only keeping their white privilege intact but also giving them a sense of superiority over other white people.

The fear is that the white ally doesn’t realize what it means to give up their privilege, and that if they really knew, they would want to keep that privilege. And one day, if they understand our situation deep enough, they will see that white privilege is a real concept and that giving it up will have real repercussions in their actual lives, there will be a backlash, and they’ll leave in a huff to protect the privilege they never wanted to lose.

And the fear that they’ll eventually leave is not an unfounded fear. This has happened, time and time and time again.

I’m not preaching a sermon. I’m not being moralistic. I’m not telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. I’m just telling you why it’s hard to trust white allies.

Because if I were in your shoes, knowing what I know as a black man about what it means to be white in America…I’m not sure where I’d be standing, honestly.

But, at any rate…I’ve decided to give most white allies a chance, anyway. I think it’s possible, perhaps, to be driven forward by a sincere sense of justice that causes you to think that privilege should NOT be a thing in your life, for one selfish reason — you want your friends to be treated fairly. It may be hard to get there, but maybe it’s possible. I mean, at the bottom of it all, we’re family, I think. So…in spite of the risk, I personally have chosen to give it a shot.

Thanks for reading.

PS: I want to show appreciation to all 33 of the patrons who support this blog. Thanks for helping me keep this going.

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