notes on alliance
you wear your grief on your facebook wall today like the good ally you think you are but where you yesterday? where will you be tomorrow?
i ask this working at racial justice nonprofit, where, when i go into work, and a news story breaks like #altonsterling, i hear about black mothers shedding tears over a cellphone camera video showing a man harmlessly selling cds getting murdered while two cops pin him down, i hear how my black coworkers refuse to consume grief anymore because they’ve had enough grief for a dozen lifetimes, i see that we keep adding names to our white board, time and time again, just watching the body count of the communities we serve pile up.
i’m not going to claim i’m a great ally. but i try the best i can. most of my closest friends aren’t white. i’m an anomaly even in one of the most racially diverse cities in the world. i understand the inherent privilege i have because of my skin. i see how growing up as a white kid in the midwest, even from a poor single parent family, i was protected on the basis of my skin color. i’ll never have to worry about being alton sterling or mike brown or freddie gray or a list too long to name because i’m live and white in the united states of america.
but i want to dismantle the mythology of this country. i want to shred the american flag up and start over because i recognize without racial justice, without liberation from a political system founded on the shackles of brown bodies, what we have in this country cannot be called democracy.
i know it’s hard for white people to see this. and it’s easy for folks, in the wake of certain acts of violence that get picked up by cnn and the nytimes, to use their grief to show they care about #blacklivesmatter, without confronting anything, because that’s precisely what white privilege is, silence over the way in which white people don’t have to live race on a day-to-day basis and therefore never have to be confronted to change the conditions that make these inequalities possible. tears are a tool to make you seem ‘woke’ —
but being woke isn’t wearing the skins of black bodies for your theatrical display of alliance —
it’s about searching, relentlessly and forever, to challenge the legacy of white supremacy you and your ancestors have benefitted in, it’s about learning to love and console your non-white friends, lovers and coworkers when they need it and when they ask for love, it’s about reading without being told, of seeking out the conversations that unsettle, it’s about saying enough is enough, it’s about finding an anger at these injustices and channeling them into concrete actions.
alton sterling leaves behind children, who like him, will have to face a life in america as black bodies still shackled by structures and histories that have labelled them subhuman. this is a indisputable fact. if you disagree with this fact, you are a white supremacist. if you recognize this fact but ignore it, you’re probably the same person that writes about their grief today for alton sterling today but doesn’t think, how can i help make this country better for his children? your silence enables the former to flourish. your silence is like that gun the police officer held in his hand to kill alton sterling.
if you want to be an ally, you need to disarm and destroy that gun, over and over, until something substantial changes.
today i don’t cry. black people don’t need my tears. today i question. i search for what can make me be a better ally tomorrow. i tear into my own flesh, as metaphor, to find out what a body desecrated, defiled, and destroyed can do. i show others what that body looks like, hoping they’ll move behind facebook activism into critical refusal, finding their anger and harnessing it, denying the hold of silence to enable white supremacy.
today i don’t cry. i stumble, because grief is about stumbling and undoing and struggling to feel whole.