I have been thinking alot lately about the nature of the work I do. The training I offer centres on anti-racist and decolonial practice and continues to been bespoke to the organisations/clients I work with. This work always combines allyship with antiracist training because the two must work alongside each other. But what I have found over the last few weeks; in the wake of the George Floyd murder and BLM campaigns, is a surge in organisations wanting to ‘have the conversation’, about allyship… not about antiracism.
There seems to be a willingness now to ‘hear out’ Black people’s experiences and ‘do better’ to support them, and this is great, but it is only a fraction of the work that needs to be done. For structural and systemic change to happen, White colleagues and institutional leads need to carry the burden of racism. They need to openly and honestly unpack what it means to be White, to have White privilege, to work within a system of Whiteness. For White people to truly do antiracist work and to be effective allies, they have to look at their own encounters with the system.
Racism is not a Black problem, but more often than not it is PoC who carry the burden of both enduring systems of oppression and trying to educate those that actively benefit from these systems. Antiracism work cannot and should not be the sole responsibility of PoC, this work requires active allies to work in solidarity with us and to carry this burden of responsibility. A Black person should not have to tell you of your own privileges.
Allyship is a lifelong process and a commitment to building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability. It is not self-defined work and efforts must be recognised by those you are seeking to ally with.
Just as antiracism is a verb, allyship is too. It is dependent not on who we are but on what we choose to do, in every space and in every interaction. Someone who is committed to doing anti-racist work cannot guarantee that they will always make antiracist choices in the spaces and interactions they find themselves in. This is a human endeavour, we all fall in this work, we make mistakes and at times may be complicit in systems that oppress others. This is why the work requires a willingness to own our mistakes, to de-centre ourselves and resolve to change our actions, as many times as necessary… This work is never complete, as we learn more, the onus falls on us to do better.
A White ally MUST also be an antiracist. They have the responsibility of not only unpacking their own Whiteness and privilege to dismantle systems designed to give them advantage, but to also actively support and co-conspire with those whom the systems work against. This isn’t about doing navel gazing work. It is about understanding how racist systems have been designed to hold you and I apart. I cannot display my trauma for you in order for you to see the impact of racism, because if you have no awareness of your own positioning, you will only look at me through racist eyes.
One of the most common mistakes White allies make is to fall back into the habit of centring privileged perspectives. An example of this may be a PoC sharing an experience of racism in the workplace that you cannot as an ally, through your lived experience, recognise. If you then seek to use motivated reasoning to offer other ways to interpret an encounter (e.g. perhaps he didn’t mean it like…etc.), however well-meaning this may be, it often results in gas lighting the PoC, invalidating their experience and centring a privileged perspective . Take a moment to think about whether you have ever done to this a colleague… or perhaps to a student. Without a constant awareness of the traits of White fragility, these habits will continue to re-emerge.
The key to doing meaningful antiracist and allyship work well is to constantly be in a state of learning, to EXPECT discomfort, to LISTEN, to REFLECT and to ACT. There is no Allyship without action.
Some tips/suggestions to help you start and stay the course:
- Join an antiracist reading group that consists of both PoC and White people- have those conversations together in a way that is guided. (Note that power dynamics are still at play in these spaces, so there are some principles to consider- see my blog on White privilege)
- Do not invite yourself into PoC spaces. A sign of White privilege is feeling entitled to be in any and all spaces. Not every space is a learning opportunity for you. Recognise that sometimes your presence in a space can do more harm than good.
- Do the work. Try not to request reading lists, resources, guidance etc from PoC and expect it for free. This is labour (even/ especially if it is from lived experience) and takes time and energy. Reflect on how this is a practice of entitlement and privilege.
- Actively listen when people share their experiences and fight the urge to offer solutions or offer unwarranted help (White saviour).
- Don’t wait for the right time to act. It is a privilege to make this choice. Time and need for allyship will be apparent without you searching for it. Thoses moments are not artificial… and in those moments you WILL have a choice to make, whether you feel ready or not.
- Work through and with your discomfort, no matter what, SHOW UP… remember that trust, consistency and accountability are the things you have promised to those you have commited to ally with.
This work isn’t easy, but as someone eloquently said online “It is privilege to be able to learn about racism, rather than having to experience it”