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Talking to White People About Allyship

Volume 3 Number 7

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Earlier this week I teleconferenced—as a guest—with a group of white folks from my alma mater working through a curriculum about allyship.

In situations where I’m a guest, my approach to talking with white people about racism is pretty laid back. I give folks the opportunity to voice their opinions so I gain a little insight into where they might fall on the racist-anti-racist continuum. When the opportunity presents itself, I take the floor and then drop a few well-chosen words.

I’m not giving the group a pass, but I was rather impressed by the lot of them. During the meeting, the members of the group demonstrated a fair amount of trust with one another. They developed an ability to speak openly and respectfully with one another—which is a boon to any conversation about racism.

Group members presented and took ownership of real-life instances of getting it wrong, failed attempts at getting loved ones to board the equality train, and how exhausting acknowledging, excavating, and exorcising their own racist beliefs and practices can be.

Over the course of the meeting, we touched on several topics, but I was able to give them a few nuggets to take with them:

  1. Know that when you serve as an ally you will get it wrong. More than once. More than twice. When you do, recognize what you did wrong, own it (without tears or fanfare), apologize, and do better next time.
  2. To serve as an ally is the decision you make the moment you encounter racial inequity. Allyship answers the question: How can I use my talents, gifts, and/or access in supporting this person/group in achieving racial equity? Sometimes it’s as simple as speaking out in the moment, other times it’s the birth of a new strategy or initiative.
  3. Allyship is never about “you” or what “you’re doing.” It’s not performative or a one-off, and there’s no merit badge given. The work is the reward. It’s about helping the marginalized people/person you’re supporting.
  4. Be prepared. Do your own research and don’t be surprised if we Black people are unwilling to relive our trauma in order to teach you what is freely available on the internet.
  5. Serving as an ally is a lifelong commitment.

Was this group the world’s best group of allies? No. You show me that group and I’ll show you a group of delusional, self-absorbed people. But these people were open to recognizing their shortcomings, learning more, and doing better. And that’s saying a lot.

It’s easy to dismiss people out of hand because they’re not as familiar with concepts that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and their allies and accomplices understand from lived experience. We all need just a little grace and just a little wiggle room to grow into our better selves. And this is exactly this week’s collection of articles exemplifies: Different ways to add breathing room to our relationships with ourselves and one another. I think you’ll like these.

Tiffany Jana shares her thoughts as a “spoonie” on inclusion of and for health, wellbeing, and the disabled. Brian Kean makes the case for racial inclusion as he compares his childhood memories and his son’s thoughts on favorite colors. The recent Oprah interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry set the internet ablaze. H. Elizabeth Falk connects the dots to show how many white women are groomed from an early age to denigrate women of color. First-time OHF writer Dominique Samari explains the importance and benefits of embracing all of ourselves—the good and the bad—and the practice creates a little grace in our relationships with others. And as part of informal series on identifying systemic racism, Rebecca Hyman presents a practical example that may have gone unnoticed—until now. And trust her, once you see it, you’ll never be able to unsee it.

New This Week

How Disability Inclusion Can Expand Your Communication Skills
by Tiffany Jana

If you’ve never heard of a spoonie, it’s a person, often with invisible mental or physical disabilities and conditions that affect daily functioning. Any chronic illness ushers you into the spoonie club. Frequent migraines, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and anxiety are among the myriad debilitating diagnoses that impair the flow of life for sufferers.

Spoon Theory

The term spoonie comes from Spoon Theory, which was coined by award-winning blogger and patient advocate, Christine Miserandino. She wanted to explain the challenges inherent to people living with Lupus. The problem is that people with invisible conditions often appear healthy and able-bodied. This makes it hard for people to comprehend their need for rest and support, especially if they are young. Christine laid out a pile of spoons on a table and likened them to the finite energy reserves of an affected individual.

Read the article in Our Human Family.

Is It Really Necessary to Have a Favorite Color
by Brian Kean

Photo by XiaoXiao Sun on Unsplash

My favorite color, hands down, is green. My favorite umbrella, which I have proudly not lost, is lime-green. Bought it in Hong Kong during the rainy season. I was the only green umbrella in a sea of black ones.

A decade ago or so, I found myself attracted to orange. Slowly but surely, I began to notice that brown was also sneaking its way into my wardrobe.

Blue didn’t cut it. I even found blue jeans disheartening, and then located a pair of rocking “Joe Jeans”: The color was a creamy, light-green that reminded me of fading guacamole. I still have those pants, and just writing about them fills me with fond memories of days strutting around in them — time to get them out of the closet as spring is near. I will wear them despite the hole in the “ass region,” which came about from an ice skating incident.

Read the article in Our Human Family.

The Attacks on Meghan Markle Show a High-Class Kind of Racism
by H. Elizabeth Falk

Photo by Mark Jones — cropped from Flickr version, attribution 2.0 generic license

I’ve always been somewhat of a fan of the British royal family. Like many Americans, I’m curious about them, mostly because we don’t have our own royalty. In today’s complex world an outdated institution like the royal family doesn’t really matter, except it kind of does a little bit. In 1987, when Princess Diana declined to wear gloves when shaking the hands of AIDS patients and later hugged AIDS babies in a Harlem hospital, it had a powerful, positive impact against the stigma of AIDS. So what they do can matter even in today’s world.

As I’ve scrolled through the news articles in my feed during the days leading up to the big interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with Oprah, the headlines were brutal. In particular, conservative news organizations painted the Duchess as a monster who made her staff members cry, corrupted poor Prince Harry, and wears jewelry tainted with the blood of Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi.

Read the article in Our Human Family.

The Gift of Complexity
by Dominique Samari

Photo by Eleanor on Unsplash

In the past few weeks I have been thinking and talking (my preferred way of thinking) about my own complexity and the complexity of humans in general. I have been working on myself lately, and inside this work I’ve had to uncomfortably rest in the idea that all my pieces add up to a wonderful, contradictory and complicated mess of sorts. I am getting to a place where I lovingly and compassionately accept that this human complexity is my — and our — universal truth. And as always, I am interested in translating my insights to the racial equity work that I do with organizational leaders and teams.

I don’t know about you but, as a young person, I was raised by my parents and encouraged by peers to put my best face forward. Sometimes explicitly, but often implicitly, I was encouraged to tuck away the less acceptable parts of myself. And not just the weird, quirky parts of myself, for which I am now, as an adult, so very thankful. I am talking about the parts that my mom thought would make me a ‘bad person’ as an adult.

Read the article in Our Human Family.

The Grocery Store Can Show Us How Systemic Racism Works
by Rebecca Hyman

Photo by Laura James from Pexels

A long time ago I read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Cameron recommends a practice she calls “the morning pages” to help eliminate mental clutter and prepare for creative work. Every morning, before taking on any other task, you write three pages. I’ve been doing the morning pages ever since. In winter, I write as the sun rises, and my mind clears along with the sky. I’m used to storying myself like this. Each day, I rehearse my individuality.

And each day, the dominant culture replies back. It tells me I am special and deserving of vacations, products, and information tailored to my particular needs. The experience of individuality is so all-encompassing that it’s challenging to see the world from the vantage point of systems and structures. These are entities that are not sentient. They don’t plot, hate, applaud, or sulk. They don’t act on the world like people do.

Read the article in Our Human Family.

OHF Magazine, Issue No 2: The Baldwin Issue

OHF Magazine, Issue 2. This issue’s inspiration: the prescient words of one of America’s premier authors, James Baldwin. Including articles by Rebecca Hyman, Sherry Kappel, TM Lankford-MSC, MAT, John Metta, Lecia Michelle, Clay Rivers, and William Spivey. Available now in print and for download. Only at https://ourhumanfamily.org.

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Keep your eyes open for updates of exciting new ways to follow and support Our Human Family in the upcoming weeks.

Have a fantastic weekend, enjoy the reads, and until next week —

Love one another.

Clay Rivers
Our Human Family, Founder and Editorial Director

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Clay Rivers

Clay Rivers

Artist, author, accidental activist, & editorial dir of Our Human Family (http://www.ohfweekly.org and http://medium.com/our-human-family). Twitter: @clayrivers