By Andrea Lawful Sanders
I gave some serious thought about writing this piece, because I am truly clear that there are those who like to dwell in the places of cognitive dissonance, deflection, and just plain old disbelief in order to dismiss the words I am about to write.
That said, write them, I must. So, let me get the disclaimer out the way — if this does not apply to you, take the nuggets from it and move forward to help others who may be doing what I am about to describe. If it applies to you, all I can tell you is this — find a quiet space to reflect on your actions and work to be better.
There seems to be among us a cadre of well-meaning white allies who surround themselves with people of color in order to make America a better place to live in. They (these allies) work hard to invite Black and brown people into their spaces, ask the hard questions of their peers, and really spend some time trying to look at their biases from the lens of other people for the most part.
However, just wanting to be an ally and reading a bunch of books does not solve much. What really helps is fully hearing what is being said to you without forming an opinion, rebuttal, or a rebuke before Black and brown folks can articulate what is on our hearts and minds.
You say that you hear and understand, yet there is the inevitable ‘but’ that shows up because some of you just cannot help yourselves.
You demand that Black and brown people speak up in defense of your feeling wronged on certain issues, but are oftentimes silent while we are consistently traumatized in every way — from education, to medical care, to just the basic human right to breathe and make mistakes.
It seems that for too many of you, being a “good ally” comes in the form of clucking your tongues in quiet disbelief, with deafening silence publicly. The recent presidential elections come to mind.
You found it “hard to believe” that some Americans embraced hate towards large segments of the population and breathed a sigh of relief when President-elect Joe Biden won, as if that proved your point.
Did you see that our very democracy was — and continues to be — challenged, for example, when the courts were asked to throw out the votes of Black and brown people in order to try and overturn what so many stood in long lines for — to get their votes counted?
Oh, by the way, we are still being shot and killed with impunity by some in law enforcement, while these white allies remain silent, as the inevitable negative stories appear about the victim’s background that make it easier for you, dear ally, to sleep at night.
You get to decide, well-meaning white ally, who is chosen to join your groups or affiliations in politics, because you have an idea of what is palatable to yourselves and the constituents you are seeking votes from.
Being an ally sounds great to you, as long as it does not make you question the norms you have embraced — norms which have harmed many while you benefited. God forbid that you feel the slightest level of discomfort.
You, well-meaning white ally, ask Black and brown folks to join your events, but put those same people on the back burner as an afterthought without recognizing that once again, your actions are dismissive; after all — we were invited to join you and that should be affirming enough, right? Wrong.
When you are offering advice, dear white allies, do not coach it in the form of a demand because you are the authority on all things, and we should just be grateful for your input — stop dismissing our thoughts and lived experiences.
You may be reading all of this and saying to yourselves that none of this applies to you — but it does. Your tone speaks in ways that leaves one experiencing a range of emotions from exhaustion to disbelief in the minds of Black and brown folks who are constantly barraged with changing norms and being abused in a system that takes our massive gifts but continues to be dismissive when we seek what is rightfully ours.
We talk a lot about America growing, changing and acknowledging the plight of others, but look around you. In the year 2020, we are still hearing of organizations who are grappling with having the first person of color sitting amongst them.
Black and brown people have gotten the degrees and expertise needed to be in highest echelons of business and industry but must unfortunately have to deal with those who are often worried that we may come and take their spots, or worse, expose their inadequacies which are laced with mediocrity.
You want to be a good white ally? Take the time to open your ears and let differing opinions marinate as it is the best way to appeal to a larger cross section of society.
Do you want to be a great one? Use your vast powers and make tangible life changes on behalf of those around you, without patting yourselves on the back and expecting those you helped to feel eternally grateful for said help.
If life was fair and all, if all things were considered equal, Black and brown folks would advance on their own merit. So then, when you open those blocked doors, stop expecting us to grovel in eternal gratitude for that which should have already been opened to us. Our thanks to you is not to squander the opportunity and continue to excel.
Your lack of expectations from us shows up in your words and deeds — check those assumptions and those tones.
We thank you kindly.
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