Allyship is not enough.
I just came back from the Black Lives Matter Symposium in Cambridge. My friend, DiDi Delgado, a brilliant writer and truth-teller, asked me to co-facilitate the white panels with Abraham Lateiner and Debby Irving. In the process I learned something not only about myself, but about white folks in racial justice spaces.
We’re so lost.
We are co-dependant, entitled, childish, narcissistic and terrified all at the same time. We want to win, we want to be right, we want people to like us, we want to look good… It goes on and on and on and I’m not sure any of us are actually ready to do what it takes.
Watch this clip to see Elle Hearns magic in action:
Elle Hearns was one of the keynote speakers. Her words were the kind that just keep ringing in your chest. I’m not done absorbing and I’m not sure I ever will be. But one message was loud and clear: Black folks don’t need white people to help them. Now let’s be clear, Elle Hearns is not the first person to say this, and her speech is not the first time I’ve heard this. But it rang differently this time. I don’t know how it rang in the past, maybe I heard defiance or pride or pain. Who knows. What I did hear this time was allyship is not enough. In fact, it might even be a form of deflection, a way of ignoring the deeper, uglier truth.
Allyship is a way of ignoring the truth.
White folks, I want you to read this next part very carefully, but I need you to be non-binary in your reasoning here. I want you to be able to hold multiple truths in your brain and see that they don’t always conflict. I want you to ignore any impulse that starts with “So what you’re saying is…” and just absorb this next part without getting defensive. If you do, read it again, and again, and again.
There are think pieces everywhere about allyship, what it means, who can do it. There are attempts to redefine it, some have gone with the word accomplice. I don’t care what the label is, but allyship isn’t enough. I don’t know what title or verb we can assign to what we need to do, I don’t have a catchphrase for you. All I can do is attempt to highlight and underline the ways that we continue to not do what people of colour, specifically black women and femmes have been asking us to do for decades, if not centuries.
This is what has been asked of us, and we’re still not doing it. Why do we continue to crowd around black organizers and try to elbow our way into black spaces to prove our virtue to them when they are literally telling us to go do our own work? We repeat their words to each other and nod in agreement and share the latest article and talk about how good it is but we do it in secret. We uplift and support black women and femmes, we pay them for their labor… But we don’t sacrifice. We do all of this to keep us distracted from the truth.
Allyship is a way of ignoring the truth.
White supremacy is a value meal.
Patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, hetero-normativity, imperialism, ableism. All of these things are linked to white supremacy and interconnected amongst themselves. They cannot be separated and dealt with one at a time. They all influence and uphold each other.
We are steeped in white supremacy and unlearning it will be painful. Not just uncomfortable, painful. We need to look at our own lives. We need to look at our relationships to language, money, time, space, community, and cut away the parts that are infected. It’s time to start making some hard decisions.
As white folks, we are in need of such a tremendous overhaul. We need to look at how we think, how we speak, how we listen. It’s going to be messy. It’s going to be tough. We lie. White people lie. We lie to ourselves. To each other. To people of colour.
White people lie.
It’s so true that it’s painful. We lie all the fucking time. We lie so much we can’t tell left from right. That’s why we’re drawn to black organizers. They’re honest and open and don’t let us pull shit. We love it, that breath of fresh air. Until they’re a little too honest. Until they touch on something that ripples. Unraveling one lie isn’t enough, touching on one sends shivers through dozens more. It’s a sick, painful web we weave for ourselves, white folks.
The reason we follow black women and femmes, and black transwomen in particular, is because of the amount of work they have already done. They inspire us. They take care of one another. The way they support and show up for each other gives us a glimpse of what could be. They have survived in a world that does not want them and they have taught each other how to love. We are so far from that kind of love. White women, we are so far from loving ourselves and so very far from loving each other. How can we pretend to show up in love when we’re so starved of it ourselves? How can we be allies when we hate ourselves so much? We are lying to ourselves every day. Our journey is only beginning, and many of us haven’t even figured out how to tie our shoes yet.
White people lie. And we lie to ourselves most of all. White supremacy is killing us and we are trying to find ways to keep it alive while appearing to be on the right side of history.
We are not allies. We’re not even close.
Now, let me be extra clear on what I am not saying. I am not saying don’t follow people of colour. I am not saying don’t support them.
Listen to people of colour, particularly black women and black transwomen in these spaces. Support them. Compensate them for their time and labour. There are many ways to win a war, and some of you will not be interested in changing internally. That’s fine, put your money into the work so that others can keep doing it.
To support black organizers and unlearn anti-black racism go to Safety Pin Box.
Welcome to Safety Pin Box
For those of you who are interested in unearthing and changing the ways that white supremacy affects you as a white person, well, that’s what I’ll be working on for the next little while. I do this work while supporting the organizers I learn from through Patreon and other avenues. If you would like to support me as I continue to write, learn, listen and educate, you can do so here. I only ask that you prioritize funds. If you do not currently support any women of colour financially please let me know so that I can divert your Patreon contributions directly to those doing the work.
Become a patron of Erynn Brook today: Read 6 posts by Erynn Brook and get access to exclusive content and experiences on the world’s largest membership platform for artists and creators.
If all of this is terribly overwhelming and you don’t know what to do please come meet the Nice White Ladies, we’re unlearning this together.
Nice White Ladies aims to cure Nice White Lady Syndrome. Many of our members are new to social justice and activism since the 2016 US election, and have walked into a climate of social engagement that they were not prepared for.
Also published on Medium.