Calling all white people, part 1: Ally or accomplice

Calling All White People, Part 1

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Are You an Ally or an Accomplice?
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

When it comes to any disenfranchised/marginalized group, be it Black or Latinx people or LGBTQA people or Muslim and/or Arab people or whomever else (a.k.a The enemies of that voracious predatory and invasive species known as the Great White Straight Mansplainer I’m-not-Bigot), you’ll find a fair number of people calling themselves allies.

And, this being the Black Girl in Maine (BGIM) blog, we shall focus on allies of Black people for the purposes of the rest of this little rant.

The problem is that with too many of these allies (really, any percentage is too much, but I figure somewhere north of 25% of them), their support stops pretty much at retweeting or sharing posts about social injustices. They don’t show up to rallies or protests, they don’t chastise their bigoted relatives and friends, they don’t put themselves at risk to protect marginalized groups/individuals and they don’t pony up any money to support Black people or Black-led organizations who are either (a) involved in educational and activism efforts and need financial support or (b) are qualified/talented Black people they could hire, buy from, contract with, etc. in day-to-day business.

Even more disappointing than the mass of people who don’t show up (literally, or metaphorically with some financial support) are the ones who want to show off how progressive and open-minded they are primarily for the head-pats and compliments and other “ally cookies” from Black people. They perform ally-ship.

It’s no wonder that, with so many friends like these, lots of Black people do a bit of the “side-eye” when someone calls themselves an “ally.” And for that reason, BGIM and many others sometimes drop the term “accomplice” instead. They don’t want allies who might run at the first sign of trouble or who might disappear after select battles are won. They want accomplices who will go with them into the breach and be with them to the bitter end.

Now, I’m going to be honest that the term “accomplice” threw me off for a bit at first when I first hear it. I understood the reasons for it, but a little part of me squirmed. A part of me balked.

One reason for this is knowing how often Black people get portrayed as criminals or troublemakers. Protest and you become a rioter. Be trapped in a disaster zone and looking for food and you become a looter. Do just about any daily activity from walking down a sidewalk to getting your ID to playing in a park and be labeled a threatening figure that needs to be shot.

Knowing how Black people are so roundly vilified and often criminalized just for being brown-skinned, the word accomplice just sounded to me like one more way that white supremacy types and rank-and-file bigots could say, “See, they call their allies accomplices. What are they up to, America?”

But really, I think the main reason it struck me in an uncomfortable way was that I’m white. I’m steeped in being white and not being a target for police attention because of the way I look. I’m steeped in being able to get jobs and loans and respect for doing almost nothing other than looking pale. I’m happy to get along in life and generally have no troubles and almost never have to think about my the myriad tiny privileges (and big ones) I get for being a white guy.

And so a part of me didn’t want to be called an accomplice. It felt like a criminal term. It felt like a mark. Something that would get me noticed by people who might wish me harm.

And I realized that was idiotic. And cowardly. Dishonorable.

It doesn’t matter that my reluctance to embrace the term lasted only briefly. The fact I balked at all was a sign I needed to think more about what I’m doing…or whether I’m really even doing anything of worth in anti-racism and social justice efforts. As BGIM might say, “I needed to check myself.”

It’s something we white people need to do daily to make sure we’re not doing the very same things, even if only on a more subtle level, as the outright racists do.

Being an accomplice is good.

Acting or speaking out against the status quo in the United States, which is centered around whiteness as the norm, is a form of resistance. It is rebellion against an unjust system. As such, these actions will be seen as treachery by many white people. As crimes against their race.

So, being a crime in many people’s minds, those of us who say we stand with Black people and who maintain that Black lives matter should be proud to be accomplices. We should be willing to put ourselves on the line too and put ourselves between Black people and their oppressors and aggressors.

There’s nothing wrong with being an ally, either, if you really are. If you really provide support that matters and are actually walking the walk and not simply talking. But let me urge you all to aspire to something that, while more risky, is also more honorable and useful. Being an accomplice.

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