When “allies” fuck up — it’s time to #DoBetter
I am tired. Tired of white people seeking to be in solidarity with Black Women failing to take responsibility for their mistakes and having to do the heavy lifting of correcting them over and over and over again.
The July 4th round of “white allies” fucking up was as toxic as all the rest, but as with most situations regarding white people, the mistakes themselves were the least offensive thing we had to deal with.
No when white people fuck up, it is almost always their RESPONSE to being called out that adds insult and incredulity to injury. It follows a familiar pattern:
- White person/organization/group fucks up royally. Usually by stepping out of their lane and commenting on someone or something they shouldn’t — hey Amber Tamblyn — or screwing over someone they claim to be in solidarity with — oh hi Rise & Resist.
- Public outrage is expressed, coupled with many Black Women giving detailed reasons why & how they fucked up.
- The offending party claims they didn’t “intend to offend” and appears unable to hear what anyone is saying to them.
- After receiving push back on their initial response, an “apology statement” centered on themselves is issued (“we never meant to harm anyone” “I would never do what I’m being accused of” “we are so sad about how this was received”) while failing to take actual responsibility for their actions.
- When their meek, ineffective apology isn’t accepted with open arms, they become the victim of “unfair treatment” & “bullying”.
- They eventually — after a lot more free labor from Black Women — “learn” what they did wrong, declare themselves an expert on fucking up and recenter themselves as a way to “teach others”
- Do this same shit all over again the next time they fuck up.
We are sick of this cycle. It’s tired, counterproductive and honestly it is insulting that white people who claim to be in solidarity with Black Women seem unable and unwilling to learn from their own mistakes. We KNOW you are going to fuck up, it’s expected, but your inability to respond to your mistakes in ways that don’t center yourself and/or create more harm is where we write you off. At this point, in the year of our lord Okoye, you should know better.
The fact that you don’t speaks VOLUMES about the circles you inhabit and make clear that you haven’t actually done “the work” to become a true ally to anyone but yourselves. I’m tired of going on about this issue, but before I stop responding all together — allow me to provide an alternative cycle for you to engage with when you mess up.
- You fuck up. You know a mistake has been made almost instantly. Don’t wait for someone else to call you out. You SHOULD already be in an accountable relationship with those you claim to be in solidarity with — present your error and seek PAID counsel from them to assist with ways forward. If you AREN’T in accountable relationship with those you claim to be in solidarity with you — WHY WERE YOU TAKING ACTION AT ALL?
- Start by speaking privately with the individuals you harmed directly. Let them know you are aware you messed up and that because this was a public error, you will also be publicly taking responsibility for it.
- Take the time to understand the ways that your actions have harmed others.
A few questions to ask yourself:
Who specifically was harmed?
How were they harmed?
What were the negative outcomes of your actions to people other than yourself?
How can I address/rectify the harm done?
What secondary harm outside of those directly affected was done?
- Craft a public response that includes the following keys to a REAL apology:
Expression of Regret
Explanation of what went wrong (NOTE EXPLANATION NOT EXCUSE)
Acknowledgement of responsibility
Declaration of repentance
Offer of repair
Commitment to not make the same mistake
- Follow up on your offer of repair privately and keep it private moving forward unless the person you harmed requests otherwise. This is not an opportunity to cast yourself as an “expert on white people fucking up” — that’s exploitative and gross. Stop doing that.
- Turn your attention inwards and do the work to ensure you are in authentic accountability with those your seek to be in solidarity with.
This is the work white people who claim to support marginalized communities need to do. This too is how you resist a society steeped in white supremacy & patriarchy. Being prepared to respond to your own mistakes is a critical part of organizing. No one expects perfection. What we are demanding is a responsible approach to the aftermath of your errors. We should not have to continually expend energy correcting your behavior at this point. Progress must be made. You MUST change your behaviors.
I strongly suggest that white-led justice organizations bring in a PAID Black trainers to work on this specifically with your organization leadership and members. This cannot be something that is left to handle once you mess up. Allyship requires thoughtful, proactive planning. Plan to mess up so that when it happens, you are equipped to respond in ways that do not do additional harm.
NOTE: I strongly encourage cis-folks to replace white people with cis people and Black Women with Trans/GNC folks in this piece and do the same work we are demanding from our allies.
Leslie Mac is a Brooklyn born & raised activist who founded the Ferguson Response tumblr to connect nationwide efforts supporting Black organizers working to create lasting social change.
Projects include the Movement for Black Lives Convening & Women’s Freedom Conference She attended Northwestern University and is a founding member of the Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective. In 2016 Leslie co-founded Safety Pin Box, which was featured in NY Magazine The Daily Show, Vice News & more. She was named to Essence Magazine’s list of 100 Woke Women and BlogHer’s 2017 Voice of the Year of Impact. She also speaks nationally about dismantling white supremacy in institutional settings.
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