Defining Allyship

I’ve called Pittsburgh home for a while now and a place I feel very comfortable. Even in a place where I’ve found solace, I’m acutely aware of all the good, the poor taste, and all things considered. Circumstances that directly affect myself and others including. Being a black woman, I’ve often been met with push back, some of which I felt inclined to be silent about. Sometimes admittedly in fear of not being heard and fear of not being believed. This is not anything that is foreign to black people. I’ve commonly thought: What’s the use? I see many people turn their heads away and walking in the other direction countless times, every day. Leaving me wondering sometimes: Who is my ally? Who are our allies? I know I’m not the only one to wonder. I speak beyond simple companionship and past platonic or professional bonds. It’s not hard to feel isolated, erased, and alienated even in areas where we are supposed to feel welcome, places that promote acceptance and a strong sense of community. How many places that claim to be a safe space are actually a safe space and for what type of bodies? 

I find myself sifting through layers of announcements of solidarity claimed by some white folks in particular. In my eyes, many of these announcements seem to be very performative being that I commonly see the opposite of unity and lack of follow through. Additionally, with the Internet and computer screens offering blankets of protection from work in the outside, physical world, I find that some folks who are white may take advantage of this age to skirt around actually uplifting and aiding others, but make it appear as they are actively and wholeheartedly engaged simply by inputting their two cents forward. I see Facebook posts, Instagram flyers, hashtags, and also pictures of safety pins on shirts that allegedly affirm we, are seen, heard, protected, and undoubtedly supported. Are we protected past the cyber heroes? I don’t believe the aid is fully coming forward as it should.

Fortunately, more black voices are given platform and are being elevated, but this doesn’t mean that black voices are always being heard no matter how loud our volume is. Yes, we’re able to speak up more frequently, but his doesn’t mean we’re being met with attentive and active ears. There’s always going to be pool of people tuning the cries for help out and people causing the cries. When we address the injustices we are experience we are seldom being met with support. Instead we’re being met with radio silence. White supremacy still reigns. Discrimination still reigns. All things under the umbrella. Invisible yet sturdy segregated lines are drawn between neighborhoods. Blatant racism, bodies being kicked out of their homes, neighborhoods being gentrified, homes are being taken over for new developments and a disintegration of affordable housing. Teenagers are getting shot three times in the back and their murderers are being let off scotch free. Black people ask for support because we don’t hold the same privileges as white people and in many cases not the same privileges as other POC’s. Dismantling racism is not our jobs nor something we are responsible for. Black and brown folks are also not responsible for the education on how to unlearn behavior and break down long held systems. When we need support and are asking for it, why is it so hard to get it but so easy for some to claim ally? Leaving us most commonly to fend for ourselves and those in our surroundings. Is the declaration just for a pat on the back? When it comes down to it, who is showing up and how? Are we engaging in useful and meaningful discourse? Are we listening? Are black folks receiving access to funds, spaces that are truly safe, jobs, opportunities, and knowledge? It also extends beyond tokenizing black folks and disguising it as “inclusivity”. Including one person or a slim slice, in a narrative to solely benefit you or to create an illusion of progression is not unity. It’s a window display. 

Alternatively, black women and femmes aren’t entirely being protected. White folks need to actively work against denying access to resources and discrediting black women and femmes.  Additionally, black mothers need protection. I see black mothers suffering, much like Antwon Rose Jr.’s mother having to sit through a trial only to not have justice for her son. Police brutality being denied. Single black mothers are not being offered childcare or being denied affordable housing. There needs to be acknowledgement and support to those who fall outside of the category of the able bodied, cisgender white person. Do those who hold positions of power and influence such as property or space owners present opportunity to individuals in need or do they act as gatekeepers who thwart advancement? I don’t see an abundance welcoming of black people in spaces or an abundance of creating space for us to feel comfortable in. In fact, we don’t need to be in your spaces (metaphysical and non) if racism and discrimination is not firmly addressed and eradicated. We’re moved to create our own spaces and have been for a very long time. We sometimes struggle to mold our own opportunities due to lack of ones presented and even so these spaces aren’t always supported. When’s the last time you supported a black owned business? In turn, allyship includes race but it doesn’t end with it. Queer folks need allies along with trans folks, folks in the disability community, women; there are several marginalized sectors that are often being ignored. How are you making space?

There’s no point to parade unity when there is very clearly division and a stalemate. I say this to address the lack of accountability for stiff arming and overlooking people from varying walks of life. Addressing some white people directly: countless black individuals have been misused, mistreated, disregarded, and erased. If we want to work toward a more transformative world, you can’t choose to be present only during instances you believe directly affect you. It’s more than just listening, but it does begin with listening. It goes beyond saying you’re showing up and requires you to actually show up.  If you’re out to receive a good samaritan award and not fighting injustices and discrimination from your heart, then you’re adding to the problem. Allyship is continuous work that may vary day to day, circumstance by circumstance. If you want to truly be an ally, you must do the work to be one, which may inherently and inevitably means putting yourself in a position that may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable in order for reform. This should go without saying, but historically black people have been put in uncomfortable circumstances throughout their whole lives. Reform and accountability should be offered at bare minimum. Where can some white folks begin? Here’s a list composed of a few areas to start for those willing to aid:

  • Listening with intent
  • Issue apologies not excuses when in the wrong (Don’t  invalidate or discard black people as an immediate reaction if they speak to you about behavior or injustices experienced)
  • Don’t shut down and victimize yourself when you are told about your behavior
  • Address and eradicate racism and discrimination in your spaces
  • Actively engage in useful discourse and action regarding inclusion and accessibility
  • Support black owned businesses and organizations
  • Support disabled black people
  • Provide opportunities for LGBQTIA individuals
  • Donate funds and pay reparations directly to black folks
  • Assist black people without having to tell anyone you’ve done so
  • Don’t gaslight or manipulate due to your own discomfort in attempt to protect yourself
  • Be willing to unlearn behavior patterns, racism, and microaggressions continuously
  • Don’t use any degree of violence against black people both verbal and non
  • Be willing to stand up and open the floor for dialogue to hold other white people accountable
  • Understand that announcing allyship is redundant if it’s empty or not followed through
  • Recognize tiers of racism including colorism i.e. favoritism and only being receptive towards lighter skinned black folks and white-passing black folks
  • Don’t further sabotage and silence the marginalized voice

In order to come together, cracks must be mended and fruitful action must be taken. This will never be an overnight mission. If the infrastructure is old, decaying, and crumbling apart, then we must tear down and start anew. If the aim is to be progressive, faults and the varying degrees of violence must be acknowledged and not something that continues to be swept under the rug leaving cycles to repeat.

Where are our allies?

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