Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How NOT to be a white ally (and how to be one too.)

[Content note: police brutality, racism.]

Last Thursday, I attended the Austin gathering for NMOS14. Overall, it was an extremely powerful event. After the national moment of silence, the names of local victims of police brutality were listed. Family members, like those of Larry Jackson, spoke about their experiences. Local organizers called us to action and shared what we can do. Black people of all ages shared their experiences living in a world where they could be shot by supposed authorities simply for existing.

One woman, A'Driane Nieves, shared about a piece she wrote over a year go called, "America's Not Here For Us" and the experience of raising black and brown children. She commented how the American systems see these children as expendable.

From the crowd, an angry white guy yelled, "We're all expendable to them!"


Luckily, the crowd response was quick, clear, and powerful. I was standing next to one of the many people who shut him down, a black woman, who responded, "Don't you dare try to make this about you."

The young man was a case study for doing this WRONG. It was mind boggling to me that someone could make it to this event, listen to those stories, and still think that "all of us" experience interactions with the police/government in the same way.

I am sure he has his own valid reasons for hating the police. My friend said he was affiliated with ISO Austin (who knows if he is) which I remember as the group at the Capitol last summer with the most "fuck the police" mentality. It's fine that's how they feel and behave...whatever. But it is either pure ignorance at best (and flat out racism at its worst) to pretend that this moment in our nation's history, and these situations, are race neutral.

They're just not.

The examples of "how NOT to be a white ally" continued as the event went on (albeit in more subtle ways.) For example, when Dr.JuNa, the local event's organizer, asked that when everyone left they follow laws (like using the crosswalk) another white dude next to me scoffed and said, "WHY?" Once more fellow white people--how can you arrive at that event in this moment and not understand why a black woman might be asking that we keep things orderly...could it POSSIBLY be that her experience with the police is different than yours? (And it's not lost on me that in both of these cases, it was white men responding to black women.)

On the flip side, there has been an awesome article going around about how to be a white ally, by Janee Woods. In it Woods offers some practical tips that I think all of us white folks really must examine. I've simplified her list here, but you've got to go read the whole thing to get the richness of her advice:

1. Learn about the racialized history of Ferguson and how it reflects the racialized history of America.
2. Reject the “He Was a Good Kid” narrative and lift up the “Black Lives Matter” narrative.
3. Use words that speak the truth about the disempowerment, oppression, disinvestment and racism that are rampant in our communities.
4. Understand the modern forms of race oppression and slavery and how they are intertwined with policing, the courts and the prison industrial complex.
5. Examine the interplay between poverty and racial equity.
6. Diversify your media.
7. Adhere to the philosophy of nonviolence as you resist racism and oppression.
8. Find support from fellow white allies.
9. If you are a person of faith, look to your scriptures or holy texts for guidance.
10. Don’t be afraid to be unpopular.
11. Be proactive in your own community.
12. Don’t give up.
One thing I have learned in my own striving toward allyship (which is a daily process) is to actually LISTEN. If there's something that the men from last Thursday prove, is that you can be present and participate, but still not be truly listening. Don't be them--read and listen and THINK about what you're hearing. Ask yourself, how are you own actions, thoughts, and biases contributing to racism? Because as a white person in this world, they probably are.

Dismantle yourself before you try to help dismantle system.

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