Dear Would-Be Ally Who Messed Up
An open letter - because messing up is going to happen on this anti-racism journey
Hello friends, when I wrote Dear Deluded Racists, I had no idea it would be so popular. Based on that, I’ve decided to do another letter format issue. Hope you enjoy it.
Dear Would-Be Ally Who Messed Up,
Trust, once lost, is hard to regain. And that goes double when white would-be allies default to whiteness and essentially betray their Black or Brown colleagues.
We may know that you're sincere and that your heart is in the right place. We may see you having difficult conversations and applying what you are reading and learning in daily action. Yet white supremacy is a hard pill to unswallow, and you will make mistakes on the journey. We get all that, but it still hurts when it happens.
The thing you need to remember is that you personally may only have let us down once, but we have been let down hundreds of times by other people who look very similar to you, and by people who did not have your good intentions. The trauma is real, and it’s cumulative, and like other trauma, it doesn't take much to put us in a bad space. To you, our response may look like an overreaction. To us, it's necessary self-protection.
Messing up is inevitable on an allyship journey. Both we and you know and accept that. But you should also know that a person only gets so much grace before people experiencing harm decide to remove themselves from the situation. (And if they don't, that doesn't mean they haven't been harmed. It probably means that other inequities leave them with no choice but to stick around.)
Yes, it's hard for you to fight decades of programming, to see Black and Brown people as your equals and actually treat them that way in ALL circumstances, no matter what is happening with you. It's equally hard, if not harder, for us to fight centuries of experiences and events that tell us that most white people can't be trusted to have our best interests at heart. (If you’re an exception to that rule, you already know it, and thank you.)
When we choose to trust you, don't take it lightly, and strive to prove that our trust is well-placed. Because it only takes one misstep to send us back to the beginning to try to rebuild that trust, and next time it will be harder, if it happens at all.
Above all, don't get mad when we struggle to return to how things were before. Even if we accept your apology, and more importantly accept that you mean it, it's going to take some time, because who wants to get hurt again? So give us space and grace and keep doing the work. It's really the only way back.
Signed - Sharon, a battered but still hopeful anti-racism activist.
How did this letter land with you?
If you’re a paid subscriber, there’s more on allyship in What Happens When You Screw Up as an Ally?
Thanks for reading,
Image credit: Getty images: Prostock-Studio
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.