Becoming a true ally is not easy and does not happen because of our intentions or self-identification. It requires consistently showing up and being useful over a long period of time in a way that creates non-superficial relationships. It requires us to educate ourselves and engage in self-reflection. We can’t know or speak from truth if we don’t understand. We can’t be in right relationship if we don’t have a real relationship to begin with.
Being an ally requires being willing to be accountable without reservation.
- Stop blaming
- Stop complaining
- Be honest with yourself
- be willing to sincerely, completely and whole heartedly apologize for your actions that a BIPOC person indicated could have been racist
- Stop make excuses such as “I’m too old, too busy” etc. for not showing up
- Be aware of any and all “IF…” thoughts or statements. Thoughts such as “I would do x,y IF …”
- Recognize that you benefit from the status quo while others suffer because of it, that racism needs to be changed, and if you aren’t actively working toward that it is because, perhaps unconsciously, you like things the way they are
- Understand you have choices
- Be willing to stand up and FIGHT.
“Though he (Black people) knows you will not support all his demands, he is well aware that you will be forced to support some in order to maintain your image of yourself as a liberal. He also knows, however, that your material comforts, your security, and your congenial relations with the establishment are much more important to you than your rather volatile idealism, and that when the game gets rough you will be quick to see your own interests menaced by his demands. And you will sell him down the river for the five hundredth time in order to protect yourself. For this reason, as well as to support your own self-esteem, you are very anxious to have a position of leadership and control in the Negro’s fight for rights, in order to be able to apply the brakes when you feel it necessary.” — Thomas Merton Letters to a White Liberal 1962
Then there is the question about what can an ally who understands all aspects of the issue actually do to move us forward. This article chronicles the actions taken by Germans to address the horror of the Holocaust. It could be a powerful place to start.
Germany faced its horrible past. Can we do the same?
By Michele L. Norris | JUNE 3, 2021
T he United States does not yet have the stomach to look over its shoulder and stare directly at the evil on which this great country stands. That is why slavery is not well taught in our schools. That is why the battle flag of the army that tried to divide and conquer our country is still manufactured, sold and displayed with defiant pride. …
This collective culture of atonement is captured in the eight syllables and 26 letters that comprise the German word Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung. It’s a mouthful that translates loosely to “working off the past.” But its full meaning goes deeper than even that awkward phrase suggests.
Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung refers to Germany’s efforts to interrogate the horrors of the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. It has been a decades-long exercise, beginning in the 1960s, to examine, analyze and ultimately learn to live with an evil chapter through monuments, teachings, art, architecture, protocols and public policy. ..
In today’s Germany, children learn through their teachers and textbooks that the Nazi reign was a horrible and shameful chapter in the nation’s past. …
Plaques and markers in many German cities note the locations of synagogues, schools and Jewish neighborhoods that were raided and razed by Hitler and his legions. Roughly 75,000 small brass “stumbling stones,” known as Stolpersteine, are embedded in the streets and plazas of hundreds of towns and cities throughout Germany and elsewhere. Each begins with the phrase “Here lived” and is followed by the facts of someone’s life — their name and birth date. And then that etching is followed by the grim facts of their fate: exile, internment, murder. …
“Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risk of infection.” —Richard von Weizsäcker, President of West Germany, 1985 marking the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II
There is and effort to bring similar awareness and commitment into the US. Through research, education, and civic engagement, the WITNESS STONES PROJECT, Inc., seeks to restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities.
What Is the Witness Stones Project?
I nspired by the Stolpersteine project in Germany (and with their blessing), the Witness Stones Project began in Guilford, Connecticut, in 2017. Our mission is to restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities.
We do this work through teacher workshops, engagement with students and members of our community, and, finally, memorializing enslaved individuals through the installation of Witness Stones.
The Project provides research assistance, teacher development, and curriculum support to help middle and high school students study the history of slavery in their own communities. The students explore the lives of enslaved individuals through primary source documents, including account books, wills and probate inventories, church and town records, indenture contracts, manumission deeds, obituaries, and other surviving archival artifacts. The Project’s teacher training workshops familiarize educators with accessing these primary source materials and facilitating student analysis.
One beautiful example of how we all, even the best allies, are fabulous AND flawed is —
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
June 2013, the US Supreme Court removed safeguards that had protected voters against racial discrimination in its decision Shelby County v. Holder. The following is how RBG ended her oral summary of her dissent from the majority opinion:
“The great man who led the march from Selma to Montgomery and their call for the passage of the Voting Rights Act foresaw progress even in Alabama. ‘The arc of the moral universe is long,’ he said ‘but it bends toward justice,’ if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion. That commitment has been disserved by today’s decision.”
“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes,” Ginsburg responded, joined by her liberal colleagues, “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Like most of us, RBG was also sometimes flawed in her actions and understanding.
For example, she hired very, very few black law clerks. One of her legal opinions adopted by the Court, City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, upheld the property rights of non-indigenous people over the rights of the Oneida Indian Nation based on the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery.” During an interview in 2016, Ginsburg spoke this way about football players’ silent protest of taking a knee:
“I think it’s really dumb of them. Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act. … If they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive. If they want to be arrogant, there’s no law that prevents them from that.”
And then sometimes there’s the tendency to look for an easy answer:
“Once [gay] people began to say who they were, you found that it was your next-door neighbor or it could be your child, and we found people we admired.” … “[t]hat understanding still doesn’t exist with race; you still have separation of neighborhoods, where the races are not mixed. It’s the familiarity with people who are gay that still doesn’t exist for race and will remain that way for a long time as long as where we live remains divided.”
The fact is each of us is a product of our time. None of us have a perfect understanding, but we can try and hopefully we can grow.
RBG was raised in the 1930-40s but against great odds and with her flaws, she stood up and fought for justice. In 1997, a 5-year-old girl wrote RBG asking “Are you in charge of all the people in the United States? Have you ever made a mistake?
“I am not in charge of all the people in the United States, but I work hard to do my judging job well. And yes, I have made many mistakes, but I try and learn from them.”
When asked how she wanted to be remembered she said:
“Just as someone who did whatever she could, with whatever limited talent she had, to move society along in the direction I would like it to be for my children and grandchildren.”
Let’s follow this example. Let’s learn from our oh-so-many mistakes and do whatever we can, with whatever talent (and strength) we have, to move society toward justice.
Also, for a broader perspective click: The Problem with White Women
As said before, the first step is to listen. James Varner developed this pledge and hopes you do this every day.
Sometimes people ask how an ally should respond when a person of color is “disruptive.”
I’ve been asked “what if part of being a good ally is being able to say, sometime individual black people do the wrong thing and I will hold them to a high standard of behavior?” “How does all of this fit into trying to be a good ally to people of color if another person of color is attacking them?”First and foremost these situations can’t be solved in social media like Facebook. In general terms, one critical aspect of being a good ally is to de-center whiteness which means for a white person to decenter their judgements, opinions, or power. Rather to step back, disengage, be patient and L-I-S-T-E-N. It is not our job to referee. POC of very capable of taking care of their business themselves. Even in the most dire situation white “allies” usually (with unintended consequences ever present) muck things up. In my experiences there is always something one can learn about how racism IS operating in ourselves and our systems. Also, what often is forgotten when the issue is our racism, to bring it into prayer, be Spirit centered.
Long-time Bangor Civil Rights leader James Varner, 86, delivers an emotional message about the last moments of George Floyd’s life and death to an anti-racism protest in Augusta. James Varner is the co-founder of the Bangor chapter of the NAACP and president of the Maine Human Rights Coalition.
By reading this article in the Healing Racism Toolkit, you have chosen to explore an experience that can change your thinking and interaction with other human beings that seem different from you but if you really really think about it, we as human beings, are very much alike.
Follow the link as Wanda Sykes calls on white people to “step up” and DO something. “I’m tired of getting texts from my white friends saying ‘thinking of you, I hear you, I love you,’ …I’m not discounting them at all but …it’s kinda empty, … “I need y’all out on the front lines.” …”you gotta fix your problem, you’re the abuser.”
So maybe showing up at a march or rally with a sign is not enough. When have you last confronted systemic racism and kept at it (not just a one-off comment) in structures where 60% or more of the leadership is white? Have you done this month after month, year after year? Have you done this in your religious community? Your workplace? A business you frequent? civic organization? recreational activity?
An important step in being an ally is to take responsibility, not expect others to do the legwork for us. In this section are a plethora of resources. Especially useful is the below pamphlet “Accomplices not Allies.”
Any number of things can lead a person to think about organizing a campaign for racial justice. While it’s not hard to do, there are some organizing strategies that are useful. Wishful thinking or hoping someone else will do something is not enough. The following is a blueprint of a step-by-step action plan. Use whatever parts are appropriate to your situation.
Being an ally is about challenging ourselves daily to put others needs before our own comfort. It forces us to look out for our blindspots, to be accountable for our words and actions.
Most of all it requires 100% commitment to practice, practice, and practice, not when it is convenient or we are getting appreciated for our efforts but 24/7 whether someone else notices or not.
Communities of color continue to fight every day against racism, and heal from the effects. Allies can support them, and help dismantle the ways in which our institutions and culture are deeply rooted in oppression. While the decision to use your privilege for good is the right thing to do, it’s simply not enough. Here are five ways to be useful and effective as an ally, rather than just wearing the title.
This work can often feel like you are catching it from both sides. One side however has a lot to do with who you are and the things you have yet to learn. (Hopefully, this website will help.) The other side however feeds entrenched racism producing unproductive pain, emotional, mental, and spiritual violence; the opposite of healing. This section shares some of this experience and why it is important.
In many or most activist organizations are people who build organizational or individual capacity and power, establishing themselves comfortably among the top ranks in their hierarchy of oppression they strive to become the ally “champions” of the most oppressed. While the exploitation of solidarity and support is nothing new, the commodification and exploitation of allyship is a growing trend in the activism industry.
Imagine this scenario.
It is a beautiful June day. A gentle breeze is blowing as smiles and gentle laughter greet one another; time for a cup of coffee. An argument erupts. “You owe me an apology” “No you owe me an apology” Voices raise and feet stamp. …
Some people find it easy to deny a part in the problem of racism. We may tell ourselves that of course prejudice is wrong, and after all, Friends and other white people who were on the forefront of the civil right movement. Yet white privilege has affected the very structure of our minds. We have become addicted to it.