Last week I went on a mini Twitter rant about White allies acting badly. I inadvertently used a hash tag that was both informative and highly suggestive (at the same dang time):
I was irritated by the countless social media conversations where non-Black “allies” threaten to withdraw support of movements like #BlackLivesMatter because of hurt feelings.
You can see more of my tweet rant here.
To ally with someone means to combine or unite a resource or commodity with another for mutual benefit.
Mutual benefit is a key factor in any ally relationship. But when it comes to alliances shaped by race, mutual may not mean what you think it means. Despite the fact that a few conservative media outlets (like this one and this one) seemed to think my rant was started by anti Bernie Sanders sentiments specifically—it was really aimed more broadly aimed at politically motivated allies (and some bad ally behavior) in general. Because nothing is more irritating than when allies “are embedded in a white savior ethos that discounts black thought leadership as unintelligent and unworthy.”
That’s bad ally behavior folks.
But What Have Blacks Done For the Whites Lately?
One of my favorite law professors, Derrick Bell (may he rest in peace and power), described what happens when White people work as allies on racial justice issues. He described it in a theory called Interest Convergence.
Interest Convergence says, that based on White folk’s record of being White:
“whites [i.e. allies] will promote racial advances for blacks only when they also promote white self-interest.” (emphasis added)
However, the very moment, that White people (yes, even White allies) sense their personal and collective interest will be compromised by a racial justice advance, they will typically stop it in its tracks.
This is always important for White and non-White people to remember when working and engaging with White allies on racial justice issues.
Slavery/colonization/Jim Crow were race-based systems supported by two central beliefs:
- White people, by virtue of their whiteness, have a God given right to dominate the earth and to rule over non White people; and
- Black people, by virtue of their Blackness are divinely ordained to be a permanent slave class whose central role was to serve White people. To make them comfortable.
These beliefs were promoted both by Whites who owned slaves and those who did not (but who benefited from the privileges that living in a race-based slave society gave them). Making White people comfortable was enforced through strict laws and the use of wanton, extreme violence against Black people...Failing to consistently and enthusiastically defer to White people’s self proclaimed right to be comfortable could lead to torture, death or the spontaneous sale of one’s children, closest family and friends. It could—and still does—lead to death. Just ask Sandra Bland. Or Mike Brown. Or Rekia Boyd. Or Trayvon Martin…
These relationship dynamics are still present in all of our interracial interactions. They as omnipresent as the air we breathe. This is what’s at play when White “allies” can’t help but dictate to Black people just how and on what terms Black lives will matter.
When Double Entendres Work Both Ways
If you follow me on social media you may notice that I usually capitalize my hashtags. Call me an old lady but it makes them easier to read. What I didn’t realize is that #NotAnAlly is fine when in Title Case. But when it’s in all lower case…it’s actually something quite different…
See the double meaning there? Once I saw it, I giggled like an eight-year-old girl. Maybe I’m immature, but it’s kind of funny. But by the time I realized it, #NotAnAlly had already taken off and was being used to spread some really positive information about what it looks like to be an ally and what is not ally behavior. You can view the hash tag thread here.
This is important, because I do believe that there are White people who believe they are committed to social justice and to creating a world where equality is a real thing. They should be empowered to do that.
But, (pun fully intended) #NotAnAlly also revealed a bunch of butt heads who decided that they don’t like following Black leadership. They didn’t like how actual Black people defined what makes a “good ally.” So some of them decided to take their balls and go home.
Cool. But if those people are inclined to vote with the Democratic party, they might want to be careful how they do that.
You Ain’t Gotta Like Us. But Be Anal About It At Your Own Risk.
Black people were blocked from participating in the democratic process for the first several hundred years of this country’s history. You could be lynched for trying to vote while Black, let alone trying to organize a lobbying group. Perhaps partly due to that history, Black voters are a very loyal and motivated voting group. In fact, no one votes in higher percentages than Black women.
Because from the looks of things…this election season might be a bit…different. And Democrats, and other so-called left leaning Black allies, may want to recognize that.
A lot of Democratic allies, traditionally rely on the following “Get Out the Black Vote” formula:
- Visit Black churches and organizations;
- Give speeches that include the names of Black pastors and/or Black celebrities/causes; and
- Praise the wonderful soul food chicken dinners they eat in Black church basements and rec rooms.
That formula doesn’t include position statements on issues, never includes any policy and is full of paternalistic messages like “pull your pants up,” “be better parents” and other Barack Obama, Don Lemon Bill Cosby style advice for successful Blackness.
What these Democrats, and other so-called allies, are not used to is a Black electorate that is activated, mobilized, and focused on one central issue: #BlackLivesMatter.
They are not used to Black voters who are questioning racist authority and thinking critically about not only who to vote for, but if they should cast a vote at all.
Black people have voted for both parties at different points in history. And both parties have shown that they are only willing to be Black allies so long as it benefits White interests. Most recently, under the Democrats, led by Bill and Hillary Clinton, Black people got one of the worst federal crime deals in our nation’s history. Under the Democrats, ourcurrent
home team, we got policies that put more Black people in jail, destroyed more Black families, decimated welfare and other social programs and grievously exacerbated issues screwed up under Ronald Reagan and the Republicans.
So yeah. Think of this as a time of reflection. If not whole sale reconsideration.
Lets Try This Again
Many left-leaning allies may be uncomfortable with tactics used by supporters of #BlackLivesMatter. But they most certainly want Black votes.
Instead of treating Black voters like step children who should be happy to be let in the room, I suggest you start thinking of Black people as a true constituency. A group for whom you work to earn votes. A group whose interests you must speak to and build a platform around because you need their vote and cannot win without it.
I don’t care how Ready for Hilary you may be. But if my community’s needs aren’t being spoken to, then I’m ready to encourage a boycott of the national election. I don’t know how much Bern I’m supposed to be feeling. But if my community’s needs are an afterthought—then participating in the national election can be an afterthought too.
Black voters shouldn’t have to snatch your mic—or your wig—for you to create a position statement on structural racism. Not when we get new hashtags memorialize get Black victims of police brutality every week.
#BlackLivesMatter may be a slogan to some and an organization to others. But just like in the days of the #BlackLiberationMovement & the #BlackLiberationArmy, the phrase speaks to a number of issues that are specific to the history that created the Black community.
A history that is based on White people using race (and a good does of self centeredness) to make themselves comfortable at the Black community’s expense.
So yeah. You might get interrupted. You might get your mic snatched. But you can be prepared for that by treating Black voters like you respect their vote (even if you really don’t).
Which means you need a platform and position statements on how you’re going to make sure #BlackLivesMatter. The exact same way that you do for all of your other constituencies.
You need to hire some Black people who are experts in the ways that structural racism impacts economics, poverty rates, community development, health rates, incarceration rates, education disparity, and every other facet of inequity that we have documented, reported, expounded upon, and intellectually masturbated about for the past 500 years.
How About a Policy to Address That?
Yes we want to policy for anti-police brutality, and that’s a nice start. But since Black people are abused by police daily, that’s really the least you can do.
So come on allies. Dig deep and let’s tie all of this together. We now have an actively vocal Black constituency. Comprised of voters. Or should I say potential voters. We’re in an election season with candidates who speak about Black issues only when absolutely forced to do so.
Clearly that is not very good ally behavior.
That’s cool. Because Interest Convergence reminds us that Black folks can only assume that we are going to get cooperation on a lot of these issues so long as White allies get something out of it.
That something right now is our vote. That something is our commitment to use our highly effective electoral politics to motivate our highly loyal voting community to stand in line and check the box for your candidate.
So do you allies.
If you want Black people to come out and vote at all, let alone vote for you, I suggest you stop disregarding us like slaves your ancestors used to own, and start respecting us as a constituency whose votes you most certainly will need come 2016.
I’m just saying. We don’t have to be friends, though I’d rather we were. We don’t have to be allies on everything. But either way, let’s recognize the political stakes for what they are. There will be no more glorious church visits and basement chicken dinners without demanding that politicians speak to the specific needs of #BlackLivesMatter.
This is not your granny’s civil rights paradigm. Either proactively create racial justice policies that are connected to the real suffering of Black people…or create a plan that can win you the White House without the Black vote. While you figure that out, many of us will be over here making sure that #BlackLivesMatter is a reality. With…or without you…
What do you think? How should Black people interact with non-Black allies? I’d love to hear your comments.
Looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind? Check out my book Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or available here for e-book download! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, or Instagram “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest Youtube videos!