How Pseudo-Allies Enable The Killing Of Black Bodies
By Bianka Bell
If you are an American with access to cable or internet, chances are you’ve heard about the brutal murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of cops. And depending on where you’ve received this information, your views on these situations may vary — potentially drastically.
I will not share my own thoughts on why it is absolutely absurd that two more innocent Black lives have been lost in the span of a couple days due to implicit racism. I will not point fingers at the militant police system we already know was implemented to secure the domination of anyone who doesn’t fit into the heterosexual, Anglo-Christian frame of identification. I will not project anger at the actual shooters, who are merely puppets of an intrinsically discriminatory culture. And I will not feed into the collective consensus that this type of violence is something that can be stopped solely with the eradication of the police state.
Instead, I will explain how you are accountable for every hate crime that has occurred in your lifetime.
If you intend to gain anything from this piece, I implore you to read it like a real person. Take in every word with the understanding that killing any human — of any race — is wrong, gruesome, disgusting. Fathom that this extends further than law and politics; that when affirmative action, “affordable housing,” and other government-endorsed platforms are deemed legitimate methods of “leveling the playing field” for minority groups (and most notoriously, Black people), it does not ensure the safety or stability of the countless Black bodies being desecrated on a daily basis. Understand that in a nation founded on white supremacy, there is no plausible way for “equal rights” to exist for all under the law.
The anti-Black ideology that permeates American culture has been so deeply ingrained and internalized that the solution cannot be found within the legal system. We have seen attempts for fairness being made, time after time, and none have ended violence against Black bodies.
The solution, instead, must come from more difficult personal reckonings.
Do policymakers actually care about the people whose lives their work supposedly strives to improve — or do they merely use their “progressiveness” as a guise to augment their own platforms and, respectively, their individual livelihoods? When white allies spew sentiments like “Black Lives Matter” and “Black is Beautiful,” or use hashtags like #BlackGirlsRock, do they genuinely care about the progression of the Black race — or do they just want to appear more “enlightened” than their “basic” or “redneck” counterparts? Is support for the civil treatment of Black bodies simply a facet of white elitist culture?
I ask these questions because I so often see supposed allies fail to adequately understand the forces at play in such senseless violence against the Black community.
Allies fail us when they expect us to respond to anti-Blackness in a certain way, and dismiss our justifiably emotional responses to violence and hate.
It is exhausting as a person of color to have to articulate my anger in a “rational” manner in order for my points to be taken with a grain of credibility. I am tired of casual conversations in which my (white) friends and (white) family members act like I am “too sensitive” when I respond with emotion and anger to racism. I am tired of always receiving at least one negative comment on an emotional Facebook post because someone doesn’t understand what it’s like to be followed in a store, or ignored as a customer at a pharmacy, or interrogated by law enforcement because of their skin color.
When you tell me I’m “overreacting,” you’re doing so from a place of incredible privilege. In this day and age, Blackness means having to constantly explain your existence; it doesn’t present any opportunity to think, “Well, did he have a gun in his possession? Maybe the cop was just acting in self-defense,” because the whole ordeal makes sense when we think back to all of the times we have been unfairly profiled. We don’t often accuse each other of “overreacting” in the Black community, because we understand the dangers of casual racism. If you are are not Black, you do not understand this — so you cannot and must not dictate how we should react.
Allies fail us when they are casually racist and do not hold themselves accountable for it.
When you and your crowd of pseudo-liberal friends uncomfortably evade eye contact with a group of Black teenagers on the subway, you are feeding into the culture that kills those very same kids. When you intellectualize the problem of race relations in a classroom setting, but never initiate genuine conversation with the actual people of color at your university, you are further propagating the racial divide. When you use hip-hop and rap music as a mechanism to “relate” to Black people, but don’t stand in solidarity with them when the oppression they write about actually ensues, you are perpetuating racist hate.
Allies fail us when they avoid the more difficult parts of allyship, and don’t actively take a stand against racism if it will disrupt their own comfort.
When your “cool” Black friend’s mellow is broken by yet another unprecedented attack on the Black community and you scroll past their fury-fueled Facebook post, you are silently invalidating their frustration. When you ignore the issues that serve as a constant threat to another community, you are asserting your privilege and subtly accepting the inevitable violence that will transpire against them.
All these scenarios fall under the jurisdiction of one word: enablement. If you are not actively calling out the oppression you see, and acting out the supposed beliefs you hold as a non-discriminatory individual, you are enabling the oppressor to persist. And in that way, you yourself become an oppressor.
Recently, I wrote a piece following the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, entitled “Why ‘Tolerating’ Your Queer Loved Ones Is Dangerous.” It focused on why “tolerance” toward the queer community is problematic and can have dangerous consequences. This attitude of “tolerance” is one that I have also witnessed non-Black individuals demonstrating toward the Black community.
Supposed allies may act civilly toward Black people out of necessity, but I rarely see any sort of major integration happening voluntarily. When I say this, I mean that often times, white people are fine with the existence of certain Black individuals, but would rather not allow the totality of “Black culture” to infiltrate their lives. That would be burdensome. That would require too much work. It is easier to remain white while simply “tolerating” Blackness.
And while I am in no way attempting to compare the struggles of the Black community to those of the queer community (that would be incredibly difficult to do, especially when considering the complexities of intersectionality), the concept of “tolerance” is equally as harmful in both contexts. As humans, we merely “tolerate” what is different. And when we do not cross the lines of comfort, we perpetuate the status quo, even if we are hoping for better.
In my previous article, I wrote, “When we perpetuate the idea of ‘tolerance,’ we are only enabling a gateway for the more radical-minded to act on our suppressed sentiments.” Until we accept each other as humans wholeheartedly and act on that acceptance every single day, we will continue to witness injustice.
The decision is yours to make.
Lead image: Wikimedia Commons