The “lean” and why it sucks.
I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. It’s probably been done to you. You heard through the queer-gossip-vine that some white person did/said something racist. You immediately stop liking their facebook posts, stop returning their texts, stop going to their potlucks, and generally ignore them at public events. You wouldn’t want to be associated with “the racist”!!!!!!! duh duh duh!!!! Now, folks of color wanting to draw boundaries between themselves and white people who have been rumored to say and do blatantly f-ed up and stupidly racist things is fully justified. What is NOT justified is white people doing that to each other.
Let’s be clear. The real problem is racism. So, if we go around distancing ourselves from people who embody it, we are loosing precious opportunities to make whatever space we cohabitate with them safer/less annoying for people of color.
Think of the number of people you can trust to hold you accountable for your racism. That you would feel comfortable bringing up some behavior or motivation you had that you suspected to be racist (hopefully, you are thinking of other white allies, and not people of color unless they’ve specified to you that they want you to). I can count about five for myself, and I have a history of organizing within a white ally community in one of the larger cities in the country. There just aren’t that many of us. So all allies and those yet to be converted are valuable, and deserving of respectful feedback, just as all other living beings are valuable and worthy of respect.
There are factors too numerous to mention that prevent folks with race privilege from seeing our privilege as is the same with class, citizenship, sexuality, gender, educational access, etc. All we have to hold ourselves accountable to our principles and politics are each other. If we don’t take that responsibility seriously, what are we doing? If we truly believe in the worth of each other, we can’t afford to run away from each other. And, if we are truly in the movement to win, we have to be willing to do the grunt work.
The desire to distance ourselves from “the racists”, I think, has more to do with face-saving than ally-ship. As allies, we know that our work is continual, everyday, and all around us. It can be exhausting to face it. Not to mention, knowing when and where to give and receive appropriate feedback in an emotionally responsible way requires a lot of skill and maturity. But thankfully, practice helps and the more we do it, the more skillful we can become.
Basically, what I’m saying is: This isn’t a fad. This isn’t a trend. This is a way of life. We can allow each other time to grow. If we stay focused on helping each other grow instead of distancing ourselves from each other, our potential becomes multiplied. Emphasizing our collective potential, rather than our individual “rightness” allows us to build with love and longevity, allows us patience and room to grow and breath.
Things that make me go “hmmmmm…”
Ok so you went to a white allies/anti-racism workshop! Great first step! Then you decided that you needed to make your friend circle more diverse………. Ok, that’s weird!!! If you are an organizer, an employer, a non-profit organization, an event coordinator, a performance company, a media agency, a community center, etc. You do need to prioritize having your whatever it is be inclusive and empowering to people of color. Yes. But your friend circle??? Your house??? I don’t consider that priority in the movement and ya wanna know why? I don’t think many white people who are actively doing this are engaging the question of how being their friend is going to benefit said person of color they are wooing. I find it extremely objectifying and generally, though I said it already, weird.
You don’t want to have anymore all-white potlucks at your all-white house. Got it. Sure. But, how does inviting people of color to join you benefit them? Are they going to be exotified by all the other white allies that are trying to diversify their friend circles too? Are they going to feel comfortable being in a crowd of white people, again? (cause that probably happens at least once a day—think public transportation. Think gentrified cities. Think grocery stores. Think the last five potlucks they were invited to). Really??
How about, if instead of doing that, you invested your energy in figuring out how to create a flow of resources from your white hands to support and empower folks of color. Start a foundation. Learn about how to counter gentrification and work to do those things. Learn a different language. Plan an action against terribly racist organizations like ICE. Create the infrastructure for a community center in your neighborhood or community and host anti-racist workshops there. Most of all, support the work of our elders—Folks and organizations that already exist that have been doing this work FOREVER ALREADY. Like starting or joining a childcare collective, for example. (www.bayareachildcarecollective.wordpress.com)
Another thing that happens all the time and I wish wouldn’t and is along the same vein: your white friend starts dating someone who is a person of color. All of a sudden, you take a keen interest in their date, even though, when they’ve dated white people you were less than enthused. You ask their date to join your organization. You ask their date to be the only person of color to perform at a benefit you planned at your mostly white house, knowing full well that mostly white people are going to come. You tell your friend over and over again how “hot” their date is. You ask your friend about how their date is doing all the time, and suggest that you all could hang out sometime, when you’ve never done that before for their white dates.
All of these things are weird. And not only weird!! Actually exotifying of the person of color your friend is dating. That white person is hopefully consistently checking their racism and they would probably love it if their friends could support and appreciate their relationship, but not in a way that objectifies everyone involved.
What if instead, you invested energy in making yourself available as a soundboard for the challenging situations they are sure to befall. As any couple is sure to befall, and then add their racism and the racist world and bam, big befalls. And then, when you invite them to potlucks or events, how about you include information about the demographics of the potluck so that they can discuss with their date whether it feels safe/doable to attend together.
Checking Your Motivation
Getting people of color to like you or date you or live with you is not good enough motivation for being an ally. We should confront racism, because we hate racism. Because we hate the symptoms of racism: the unhealthy and disproportionate access to resources, power, and basic human necessities and rights.
This movement isn’t about being in a scene or having “sexy politics” (which is a horribly confusing term). This is about devoting your life to making the world less cruel. And that’s not something you put on to take off. Join my cult. Let anti-racism become your world. Let your soul become steeped in the ideology. In this way, you will realize that no one is expendable. That everyone you encounter has the potential to become an ally or a better ally. You will never give up. You will lean in and engage the world around you to impact it, drawing more and more people in to the movement, until there is no where else to go but towards an accountable and just future.