The past week has been one of the most difficult weeks of my life. Between the results of the election, the lives of members of the black freshman community being threatened, along with countless other acts of racism, islamophobia, homophobia and xenophobia, I’m sad about the state of America. Yet, that is not the only thing that bothered me. It was this pervasive sense of “allyship”™ that deeply troubled me.
Sympathy is not enough. If you’re really going to call yourself an ally, I’m going to need more than you wearing a safety pin. This isn’t about you making yourself feeling better, or alleviating guilt. This is about rolling your sleeves up and doing actual work to acknowledge and dismantle the systems that have perpetuated white supremacy and other forms of discrimination.
The media is not exempt from this, and what images and trends are prioritized and shared speak volumes about the motives of reporting in the first place. The media is at least partly responsible for the results of this election thanks to a lot of free advertising for one candidate. The dust is settling on electing a man who was elected at least in part by playing to white fear about the rapidly disintegrating “great” America. We can’t sugar coat how we got to where we are right now. If we are going to protect each other, we need to love one another, but also be real.
Here are some ways true allies can contribute to positive, tangible, effective change:
When you are sharing/educating others about white (and other types of) privilege, don’t highlight your own guilt. It’s counterproductive and takes the focus away from the actual marginalized community. Instead focus on ways that these systems can be dismantled.
Don’t tell marginalized communities how to feel about their oppression, or organize their movements for them. If something directly impacts a community, it is not your place to try and rally their community together. Defer to leadership within that community and focus your efforts on asking how you can be of assistance to any movement, and recognize you might not be needed in that exact moment.
Lastly, don’t come out and make statements denouncing racism, islamophobia, homophobia and xenophobia when it is convenient for you to do so. Making progress and spreading awareness is not going to be comfortable or convenient for you. We don’t need part-time allies — we for sure are not marginalized on a part-time basis.
There were a lot of people who did it right last weekend, and I was very grateful for that. However, I’m also very tired of people doing the very least to make themselves feel better without actually lifting up and affirming people of color and other marginalized communities. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to protect at-risk populations right now.
All of the time you’ve been trying to spend comforting black people and other marginalized communities should be spent educating your family members, friends and other people with whom you have the privilege to have an audience. Your goal is not just to comfort, but to dismantle and eliminate the systems that caused such discomfort in the first place. Don’t just ask if marginalized communities are okay — put yourself out there to protect them. Actions speak louder than words.
Let’s do better. I know we can.
TUNMISE FAWOLE is a senior in the College studying Health and Societies and pre-med. She is Co-Chair of UMOJA, the umbrella organization for black students and student groups on campus.
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