With Allies Like These…
It’s not just a label you assign yourself
A recent interaction on LinkedIn left me scratching my head at some people’s notion of allyship. The post was by my DLG colleague and co-founder Lea Jovy-Ford, highlighting some iterations of phrases about not seeing colour. The post was titled “Regardless of colour”.
Lea pointed out, correctly, that when you’re in the skin she or I or many others are in, you don’t get the luxury of ignoring the colour of your skin, because that has a very real impact on how people see you. If you’re reading this newsletter, or have bought my book, I’m pretty sure that’s not news to you.
As always, some people were upset by the post, including two or three white men. One in particular just couldn’t seem to let it go, and used every trick in the “I’ve been caught out but don’t want to admit it” conditional allyship playbook:
1. I don’t see colour
He seemed particularly upset by the idea of skin colour as a factor in racism, which is what the whole post was about. And he didn’t mind commenting on the post of someone who shared her lived experience of racism as a Brown woman to make his point. He didn’t mind contradicting her view either. Disagreement is fine, but without the condescension, ideally.
2. You’re not doing anti-racism right
His next salvo: focusing on skin colour as an issue isn’t the right way to do anti-racism. My thought, which I didn’t note down, is that if we aren’t prepared to recognise what actually happens, how the heck are we going to solve it? I know for a fact that I experience the world differently from white people, and that knowledge underpins a lot of the work I do to fix things.
3. I have Black and Brown friends who agree with me so you must be wrong
Ah, yes, the “Black friend” playbook. Didn’t I just write about this? Why, yes, I did, so let me quote from Proximity Isn’t The Flex You Think It Is: “It’s time for that to stop. Seriously, it’s another manifestation of white supremacy. And I have to wonder if your Black friend or partner appreciates being used this way.”
4. You’re not making me feel welcome
Again, this is a classic - white defensiveness and white tears lead to white centering instead of putting the focus on the actual point. This guy seemed upset that the OP and others on the thread didn’t see where he was coming from and that they kept refuting every argument. He never stopped to think that he might have been wrong (see point 3 above), and he definitely didn’t consider that continuing to hammer home his point in the way he did could have caused harm to others.
5. I’m a good guy, really
Then came the white saviourism - another attempt to underpin his “good guy” credentials. He talked about how much he had helped Black and Brown people, as if this gave him extra credibility. Uh, no.
6. My way is the best way
When it came down to it, this was at the heart of everything. He thought that his particular approach to anti-racism and allyship was the best way, and in this case, that the lived experiencer was doing all wrong. As my sis Lisa would say “the caucasity!”
“I’ve experienced racism…” - say what?!
The final bit was not from the playbook, unless it’s a late addition. The guy claimed to have experienced racism because of his proximity to Black and Brown people. What that says to me is that there is a huge chasm of understanding there. I really didn’t know what do with that one.
Allyship done right
Luckily some white allies, who actually KNOW the meaning of the word, popped up to suggest he rethink 1) his stance 2) his obstinacy 3) his doubling down on doing harm to the OP by continuing with his nonsense (they didn’t quite call it nonsense, but it was). One of them even offered to have a private conversation with him about it.
It will be interesting to see what happens next but the one thing I’m taking away from this as we help people step into better allyship and anti-racist leadership is that we have to let people know that this isn’t the way to do it.
There’s a particular dynamic that can happen between white men and Black, Brown or Global Majority women. As a white man who’s a would-be ally, it’s important to check yourself to avoid talking down to, talking over or minimizing the input of the Black and Brown women in your circle. And it’s also important to do as some did on this thread, and gather and school your people, even if they’re as unwilling to learn the lesson as this one was.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
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