Are You Really an Ally?

In the coming weeks, The Clerk will be publishing commentary from the Haverford community in response to the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. If you would like to contribute to this series, please email our Editor-in-Chief Hannah Cregan Zigler at hzigler@haverford.edu.

Recently, Maurice Rippel wrote an open letter to White allies regarding his life and personal trauma amidst the state-sanctioned murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and how recent experiences stand in stark comparison to his exchanges with prospective students. He ends with a desperate plea to call for White allies to “…use your privilege, stand in solidarity, and take action!” And I salute him for writing such a poignant letter. Even more, I share his pain, as a Black woman dealing with racism coupled with patriarchy on a daily basis.

Nonetheless, this is essentially an uncoordinated extension of his letter. Except I’m taking it a step further, because this has been on my mind for a long time, and amidst the persisting issue of police brutality towards Black people, especially in the recent case of Korryn Gaines, it seems all the more relevant to bring up my criticism of White allyship.

You can share all the relevant online content, post the proper hashtags, talk about how you read that one Ta-Nehisi Coates article with much praise, and call Donald Trump the obvious racist bigot that he is, but if you’re not backing up your lip service with concrete action, then your allyship is either weak or not real. Granted, while circulating content regarding Black Lives Matter and police brutality has its value, that alone does not prevent Black people from being further victimized by state-sponsored violence. Black Lives Matter is primarily aimed towards combating police brutality that disproportionately affects Black people in the US; however, the overall purpose of the movement is to challenge the racist ideology that is deeply entrenched in institutions of power that control aspects of daily life, to demand accountability of the ways in which it has controlled policies that “legally” disenfranchise Black communities, and to eventually eradicate it. Said racist ideology has existed long before Europeans even knew about the Western hemisphere, so it will take much longer than 2-5 years to dismantle it.

If you want to be a serious ally to Black people, you need to do some deep reflection and question yourself regarding why you care, what you are willing to contribute, and what you are willing to sacrifice and risk.  If you aren’t willing to ask yourself these difficult questions and do the difficult things that they entail, then that tells me personally that you don’t want to be an ally, you just don’t want to be perceived as a racist while avoiding accountability for the ways in which you may have been racist. I’m not saying that you have to completely disregard school and other responsibilities you commit yourself to; I’m saying that it wouldn’t hurt you to sacrifice some sleep or binge-watching Bojack Horseman to go to a town meeting, a vigil, or a protest that your non-White friends invite you to; I’m saying that if you’re such big fans of Black artists in the likes of A$AP Rocky, Future, Chance the Rapper, and/or Young Thug, it wouldn’t hurt to actually take action for Black people like them, or even acknowledging your Black peers, Black faculty and Black staff members on campus would be a good start. Take notes from these guys.

The overarching point is that being an ally is not easy. It is a thankless job, a job that you can’t always get CPGC or HCAH funding for, and so you need to pull your weight in using your privilege, if not altogether sacrificing it, to aid in the liberation of Black people and other marginalized groups.

If you claim to be an ally and you think I’m being too critical in how you exercise your allyship without considering your perspective, you should know that I have lived most of my life ignorant of these issues because of how inadequately, if not altogether negligently, our primary and secondary education teaches them.  Have I said internalized microaggressions? Absolutely. Did I believe that MLK ended racism? Most definitely. I even doubted my own Blackness until college, because of others that would ask and doubt it for almost my entire life. Regardless, I had to learn about racism in all its complexity from the beginning, because I, like many others, only thought it existed in the ways shown during Jim Crow. And I am still learning, because I later realized that I don’t have to know it all to speak on it and to contribute in any and every way that I can; because I realized that you can learn and act at the same time. So why are so many of you stuck on learning without fitting action into your learning?

Now allies, we’re getting ready to go back to school, so it is up to you to decide what you’re going to do from here.  Remember that it’s better to be honest in what kind of ally you are and want to be rather than constantly emphasize it only to be nowhere to be found when your allyship is needed most.

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