Calling All White People, Part 40: Goodbye, ally…Breaking up is sometimes necessary

Calling All White People, Part 40

(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: It’s not you, it’s me…wait, no…it’s you  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

So, now that I’m 40 posts into this “Calling All White People” thing, I seem to have circled around to the beginning, so to speak…not repeating myself precisely, but back to the topic that started it all: allyship. In that first post, I talked about being an ally or an accomplice, but this time the ally theme is a little different. It’s about breaking up—and how it might be necessary for a lot of “allies” and people of color for the sake of those POC (several other marginalized groups would also apply here, but we’ll use white allies of Black people as our focal point since it’s a particularly thorny relationship sometimes).

And, before I go on, let’s set the stage right with something both humorous and instructive—the very social media post that inspired this edition of “Calling All White People”…

This is, increasingly these days, a sentiment I am seeing with more and more POC and—again—especially Black people and white allies. The white ally situation really does feel like a relationship metaphor sometimes. There can be this giddy love and optimism and spark of connection but then in some (perhaps too many) cases it turns darker. Maybe even toxic or borderline abusive. Maybe way over the borderline even.

We white people in particularly love putting conditions on our commitment to the anti-racism relationship. And it pretty much puts a lot of us out of consideration for being actual anti-racists (a topic BGIM herself took up just a few days ago), because many of us are just really interested in the status quo and our own feelings and the appearance of fairness over actual justice and equity. And sadly, those conditions are often just as oppressive in the anti-racism scene as they are in romantic relationships or friendships.

I’m not saying everything is 100-percent unconditional love and commitment. I’m not even sure the most loving parents can manage to love their children unflinchingly and without any conditions. But really, 100 percent isn’t the goal and to be honest, a lot of us white people don’t get anywhere near that level anyway. Too many of us are stuck at 50 percent or 25 percent or lower when it comes to truly backing up Black people and others who are oppressed and marginalized.

Lots of white people in lots of anti-racism situations who think themselves committed will say, “Can you not be so loud?” “Do you have to sound so angry?” “Does everything with you have to be about race?” “Maybe if you approached people less confrontationally.” And so on and so forth and rinse and repeat.

For too many white people, anti-racism work is fine as long as the language is all friendly and they don’t have to examine their own actions and motivations and as long as there is minimal risk to themselves. Like…well…a lot of romantic relationships and friendships. As long as everything is fun and nice it’s cool, but let an argument arise (no matter how justified) or an uncomfortable moment or a health crisis or whatever, and suddenly it’s like, “I need some space” or “You’ll lose me if you keep doing that.”

As in any relationship, sure, there can be sins on both sides. I’m not saying all Black people (or other marginalized groups) are incapable of being hurtful or petty. But the truth is that when they point a finger at us and say “You aren’t acting right in situation” or “You are centering whiteness” or “You are more committed to comfort than to the cause” they are often on to something. In fact, they are often in the right.

Looking at Black people in particular, they have played by America’s rules all along. When they got freedom, such as it was, they started building their own communities and economies and tried to move forward. But at every step of the way, at every point in American history where that happened, white society found a way to directly thwart those efforts (things like the burning of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa) or more subtly (gerrymandering to inhibit their voting rights or stacking the deck against non-whites in financial rules, real estate, etc.). They have committed to the relationship over and over instead of simply rising up in violence en masse as perhaps they should have done by now. And yet we have continued to keep the racial wealth gap intact (and wide) and we have resisted undoing past sins (massive levels of wrongful or disproportionate incarceration, for example) and failed in so many other ways. When they have stepped up, we have not really stood beside them or behind them, much less taken any bullets for them.

Instead, we try to soothe them and say, “Just be patient” or “you need to vote for this candidate because he will appeal to moderate white voters” or “Once we get this in place, you’ll get what you need.” And it’s lies. It’s gaslighting. It’s just us trying to make the relationship pleasant for us while giving little of ourselves. Demanding love but not really giving it. Being there in the good times but suddenly distant or missing when they are bad.

We white people are often full of excuses for why we cannot do this or that to fight racism. Or how it’s impractical to dismantle and rebuild entire systems to make them truly fair to all people (or at least close to it). Black people and lots of other POC and other marginalized groups are actually in danger with what is happening to the American government and the fact that around a third or more of the country is OK with fascism and one-party rule as long as it hurts those “other people” more than it does them.

Because you see, it’s not just that 30 to 40 percent of America (overwhelmingly white folks) that matters. It’s the substantial number of (mostly white) people in relatively privileged situations compared to the marginalized who just want things to “go back to how they used to be” who enable that minority of cruel people to carry the day. Because we keep letting cruelty creep up more and more powerfully.

How things used to be has never really been fair or safe or good for a lot of groups in this country. It was just “less horrific.” And I don’t think dragging a person we say we love toward a “less horrific” situation is enough when that “less horrific” situation is still going to result in their disenfranchisement, erasure and/or abuse.

So, with America seeming ready to go right off the rails into some very dark territory indeed, expect to see more Black people and others breaking up with their allies who really never had their backs to begin with. They’ve had more than enough, and rightfully so they are telling us to go away if we aren’t going to give up any of our own comfort and safety for the good of all and for real justice. If we are just going to show up for the good times and demand happy faces because we show up a little, then we should just get gone entirely.

Many of us deserve to find our bags packed and our asses shown the way to the door. Before we do, if we really have any love in our hearts, how about we head that off with some real and renewed commitment?

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