Don’t Be an Ally

Dr. Addie Ellis
4 min readJun 6, 2020

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Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

Hashtags, selfies, and saying “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t change the systems of oppression in the United States

As a woman identified as Black in the United States my breath is constantly caught between a scream of RAGE and a scream of TERROR. Not a mythical, hypothetical terror, but a cellular terror encoded in the DNA of every person identified as Black in the United States. The rage and terror are rooted in the unpredictable nature of those identified as White. Our bodies remember plantation whippings from overzealous overseers. Our minds remember Jim Crow south and segregation. Our spirits remember lynching parties where, much like today, people paid to view the murder of men, women, and children identified as Black — it was a sport. Early in life people identified as Black learned to watch the movements of those identified as White because we knew our very lives depended on the type of person we encountered. Then as now, there are four distinct types of people who are identified as White.

First there is The Racist. The Racist will use every tactic to maintain systems of oppression, many times against their own self interest. The Racist is locked into the constructs created by the slavocracy and the false notion of white exceptionalism. The Racist is angry because the world no longer looks familiar. They are confronted daily with the fact that their superiority is a myth. The Racist is easy to identify because they do not try to hide. The Racist is dangerous; however, their hatred and violence is predictable.

Whereas the Racist is predictable, the second type of person is The Apologist. The Apologist is actually more dangerous than the Racist. The Apologist firmly believes in the constructs of whiteness; however, they seem benign on first meeting. In many instances they, “have Black people in (their) family.” They dress, tone, and behavior monitor others making every sentence regarding inequities a conditional if-then statement. “If you’d just not wear your hair that way then you would get the promotion.” “If you’d just not be so loud then people would see you as dignified.” “If you’d just not be so angry then people would be willing to listen to you.” The people the Apologist refers to are always classified as White. Apologists are the teachers and administrators who disproportionately discipline the expression of black children because these children, our children, don’t fit into the notion of “right.” The Apologists are the people we see calling the police on people living while Black and, when caught, cry their apologies. The Apologist is dangerous because they are unpredictable. In one moment they act like they are caring, in the next they are calling the police. When someone identified as Black does not fit into the narrow viewpoint of the Apologist, the possibility of violence is always present. When people identified as Black say “they/them” in most instances the reference is to the Apologist.

Though the Apologist is the most dangerous their cousin, The Ally, is not far behind. The Ally appears to be “for us.” The Ally shows up at rallies. They put up hashtags. They speak out against Racist, oppressive systems, when it is convenient. Allies always show up when called; however, when there is no spotlight they go back to living their lives as normal. The Ally wants to learn more, they want to be helpful. They are proud of their Black friends, Black relatives, Black children. Whereas the Apologist views the world through the slavocracy’s definition of whiteness, the Ally sees the world through the slavocracy’s definition of blackness. For all intents and purposes the Ally is benign. They are easily bored by the messy work of system change. They’ll show up for the rally and at the next event. The danger of the Ally is they don’t show up or speak up at the times in between incidents.

The last archetype is The Abolitionist. The Abolitionist does not wait for permission, incident or hashtags. They do the work in spite of not because of threats to their own physical, mental, and spiritual safety. The Abolitionist knows their weaknesses and their strengths in the struggle for justice. Unlike the Ally, the Abolitionist does not wear their work as a badge of honor. The Abolitionist does the work simply because it is the right thing to do. They understand people identified as Black can’t undo racism. The Abolitionist does the hard work to deconstruct the systems of inequity created by the slavocracy in order to reconstruct systems rooted in justice.

As cities burn, who are you?

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” William Wilberforce

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Dr. Addie Ellis

Dr. Ellis is a liberatory leader, speaker, and educator. She writes because “I had a need inside of me to create something that was not there” (Audre Lorde).