How to Easily be a White Ally to Marginalized Communities
Christopher Keelty
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Dear Christopher,

I get that you’re an activist, and that you’ve been enlightened. I believe that your aim here is to help people help people, but your impatience and disdain cover over any true wisdom you might impart, when the spirit behind everything you want to see people doing and engaging with is actually love. so i am humbly offering my feedback on every one of your points:

#1 i think we have learned from the results of this election that disgust is not a way to actually win anyone over. i’ve spent time reflecting on this and am definitely guilty of it. the question is, when is the last time you jumped on the band wagon because someone made you feel bad by yelling at you disrespectfully? i totally understand the feeling of wanting to react to ugliness and hatred in this way, but having done this to my parents and countless others, i’ve finally learned that all i’ve succeeded in doing is further pushing them away. that’s the exact opposite of what we hope to see. losing our positive influence over others, especially our loved ones, means that we have lost.

#2 i agree that people ought to know by now that if they’re not listening to the voices of POC and other oppressed minority groups they cannot see the whole picture. how this fits in with your entire post about how to be an ally is that it’s both preliminary to becoming one and that it helps to sustain it. being well informed and connected is the precursor to all of these other points. i understand that you’re just offering some interesting people to follow, but it kind of comes across as self-righteous, like you’re trying to prove that you’ve cornered the right activist leaders, writers, editors, and artists. it’s not hard to find people of color who have important things to say to follow — you might have suggested ways for people to do their own searches rather than just copying and pasting your own list. those people are not a commodity, and i think you would want people to know who they are and why they’re worth following so that they have a good starting place.

#3 i agree with and don’t really have a problem with this one, except your tone is still off-putting. i get that you think you have insight and some great suggestions, but expecting people to do the work of pardoning you before they can do the work you want to see them doing is a lot to ask.

#4 i fully support anyone “using their own privilege,” but it’s not just easily done the way you suggest. it takes a lot of effort and there are real consequences to getting involved and it’s really hard — you’re not going to be automatically trusted and this is not about winning any awards or gaining recognition. you don’t say any of that, but we also don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. your advice to just join a movement or a demonstration, or to just show up at a black church and ask how you can help is, i’m sorry, half-baked. the first step is understanding what the movement and purposes and goals are all about. why a white person is even motivated to attend a black church takes a back seat to knowing for whom and for what purposes black churches exist. and we don’t want anyone thinking they’re cool just for showing up. one must be prepared to participate in things like civil disobedience, which may lead to arrests and/or brutal treatment of police and bystanders. one may personally become a target for those who oppose it. #blacklivesmatter isn’t a “feel good” or “do-gooders” club, it’s a real battle against the powers of this world. going to an ethnic specific church and/or joining movements requires humility, dedication, determination, and willingness to suffer. it’s the stuff solidarity is made of. if you don’t know what’s up and aren’t prepared to take on the challenges and bear the consequences, it’s best to stay away. “white savior” complexes are harmful.

#5 is probably your only point that doesn’t need modification, and it’s the best thing people with even a little or a lot of money can do.

#6 again you’re making it sound simple and easy. this is actually difficult — i’m not saying it shouldn’t be tried just because it’s hard, but you’ve got to know that going into it so that you know you’ve got to try all the harder! efforts like this are going to be met with resistance, and you’re going to screw up and make mistakes, you’re going to piss people off, even the people you’re trying to “help.” while “diversity” has largely become the expected norm, it’s a buzz word ultimately for code switching, and the way it largely plays it is almost like certain lucky folks win the lottery. since affirmative action and quotas are largely unconstitutional and even illegal in most places nowadays, it’s really hard to argue how one candidate who is a person of color is the right one for the job when someone else’s resume and qualifications are a perfect match. everyone’s always watching, and everyone is looking out for themselves — you can’t just argue that the person of color, or the trans-gendered person, etc., deserves the job or promotion or opportunity because of diversity. it’s still a good idea, an ideal, that i hope to see more people getting on board with, but it’s not easy and you really have to be prepared, creative, and well equipped.

#7 again you just have to know what you are doing. wandering into places you’re unfamiliar with can often lead to misunderstandings and threatening circumstances that can quickly escalate. again, education is key, and getting a buddy or someone who is willing to invite you and be your tour guide is better than trying to figure it out alone. make sure you’re culturally and religiously sensitive and well-poised. if you don’t know the unwritten rules, stay out until you do know them or until someone is wiling to help you navigate them.

#8 half of it — educating oneself — is both a precursor and something that will be continually renewing and sustaining. and the other half is putting it into practice. again, you’re going to make mistakes, and people need to know that and to be prepared for it, and to know what to do when they do fail or are misunderstood or when people are suspicious and afraid of them. often times, the best intentions backfire.

my question is, did you write all of this to argue that the safety pin is both self-righteous and risky without stopping to think about how all your points are all the kinds of things safety-pin-wearing-people would already be doing? these suggestions, if taken literally as you have written them out, have the potential to lead to a lot of pain, confusion, violence, and even death. so, please, consider this feedback. i don’t claim to know more than you, i am just offering my own experience from engaging with these very real and helpful suggestions. and I hope you are able to transform your attitude — i understand the snark and i share in the sentiments, because i, too, feel frustrated of waiting for people to really start “getting” it and getting on board. i think underneath it all, your message and your motivations and your hope are for love to prevail — obviously, you have spent a lot of time caring for and loving the people you want to see others caring for and loving. so talk to them from a place of love, not one of judgment or condescension.

good luck and all the best.

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