Sometimes one just runs across nuggets of truth and beauty in the most unexpected places, hiding in small corners, waiting to be discovered. Such is the way in which we ran across the musings of Kathryn Brown.
In New Hampshire where the population diversity in most of the regions runs about 1% it has traditionally been easy for most in New Hampshire to assume racism happens elsewhere. But nothing could be further from the truth. Racism happens as an attitude; its an American construct that none of us can escape and therefore, all of us have a responsibility to root out if we want the just society we claim to want.
Kathryn Brown advises white folks, from her perspective on how to begin to assist in deconstructing racism and also, why sometimes that struggle needs to stay within the ‘white’ community because ‘white’ folks have plenty of work to do. She isn’t saying she hates white folks or their wanting to share in the struggle and their desire to fix things; just don’t assume you are of a special class of person (becoming a more privileged person actually) because you want to do this work. Its our responsibility anyway as citizens of planet earth and members of the human race.
Why I Hate Anti-Racist White Allyship
I keep hearing conversations, reading online and in my own inboxes questions from white people about allyship relating to Ferguson and issues of race. “What can I do?” “Why not all lives matter?” “Is this only for black people? Why?” “Do you even want support from white people? If so why is everything prefaced with Black?”
I appreciate this dialogue. I appreciate the support. The improvements we have made as a country and the battles we have won would certainly not have happened without multi-racial support. Including white support. Freedom summer is one example. Many white people have told me this is the first time they’ve grappled with these issues on a daily basis. Thinking about race and feeling attacked or excluded because of it can be maddening. If there is anything we can all agree on it’s that. Thank you for your support and reflection.
However, I hate the notion of anti-racist white allyship. I actually hate the notion of allyship all together- it implies that attacking oppressive systems is the natural duty of oppressed populations. Have you ever heard anyone say black anti racist? No because it’s implied and accepted that someone black would be against racism. Why? Because it’s assumed that’s a natural by product of their day to day reality. Nothing chosen or worth of exaltation.
Thus, It also implies that to be a white person against oppressive racist systems means being an exception (read exceptional). It norms NOT being anti racist. It gives credit and recognition to whites who choose to engage in anti- racist work. There is no place for ego or exceptions in anti-racist work. [italics editor]
To be black means daily having difficult conversations and grappling with the realities of systems and institutions at best not designed for you to win and at worst designed for you to fail. It is not a choice. It is not an exceptional Facebook worthy experience. It’s a byproduct of birth.
A recognition of white privilege is not condemnation to hell. Privilege takes on many forms and comes as a result of choices we make and choices we didn’t make.
I was on an airplane about to miss my connecting flight. So was the lady sitting next to me. She was in a wheelchair. I wasn’t. As a result of nothing I did my privilege in this case meant being able to sprint off the plane and catch my flight. She couldn’t. She didn’t. She had been traveling over 24 hours. It sucked.
The thing that sucks about privilege is that sometimes you have it, you benefit from it and there’s nothing you can do about it. I wasn’t trying to prevent her from catching her flight. I wasn’t trying to rub it in her face when I sprinted up as soon as wheels touched down. I was just operating within my normal context . My normal privilege and the ableist systems designed for me to win.
At times, white privilege is oppressive and undermining to people of color. Even from those with the best intentions and efforts to check it. It just is. So yes- I think it’s important to have all black spaces to organize. I think it’s important to have multi- racial coalitions as well.
I also think it’s as important if not more important for white “allies” to organize in white communities. To talk to their co-workers, family members and friends. I find it frustrating that many whites seem to enjoy the exceptional status that commonly accepted notions of anti-racist white allyship encourage but refrain from difficult conversations and confrontations with those who are not of color.
True solidarity in my mind means leveraging your privilege to improve the spaces and communities you’re a part of black or otherwise. True solidarity means continual reflection on white privilege without co-opting conversations about black oppression to make it about the inclusion of whites.
True solidarity means a recognition of universal humanity. We will never move beyond divisive systems if we continue to celebrate white anti-racist allyship as exceptional.
I’ve ranted enough- check out David Leonard (often writes for the root) if you’re interested. He writes about this a lot .
Kathryn Brown lives in Atlanta, Georgia, is a writer and lover of the finer arts and has a blog, Musings of a Quarter Life Gypsy.