The Struggle of Dealing With Allies
I am frustrated and exhausted and in part because of the work needed to deal with allies.
The struggle for social justice is an all-encompassing and overwhelming endeavor. I have spent many, hours, days, hell weeks engaged in conversations where I thoroughly and as comprehensively as possible attempt to educate someone on social justice issues only to have that effort shat upon by someone who had no intentions of learning anything. It’s painful and let’s be honest; it’s rage inducing. Seriously, I’ve started posting my fee per hour when I suspect the person is simply being willfully ignorant in order to avoid dealing with the problems we face as African Americans.
Today’s world is a minefield of learning a new language, unlearning centuries of cultural conditioning and a ton of unpaid hours of educating for marginalized people.
And this brings me to our allies.
How We Got Here
Indeed, our partners have a responsibility to be willing to be corrected, learn from their mistakes, and to do better going forward. We, as oppressed people, also have to have clear boundaries about what is an unforgivable sin and what are correctable mistakes, teachable moments. We know there is a failure of our education system to educate on African American history correctly and we have to fill that void. When I think about what I know about African American and American history and how little of that knowledge came from my formal schooling, it’s startling.
I had to realize where I had privilege. I grew up in a black household. I was blessed to know not only my grandparents but also my great-grandmother. I was lucky enough that they were willing to set aside their anguish as they told me about their personal encounters with racism. We had subscriptions to Ebony and Jet magazine. We watched Roots. We watched and discussed PBS’ Eye on the Prize series. I have a massive amount of information coursing through me that most of my white counterparts could never access.
If I was out here armed only with the sketchy and incomplete “knowledge” I learned from school I too would believe slavery ended due to the lack of racism in the north and the benevolence of Abraham Lincoln. I would believe that after the Civil War a few racists formed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the south and once Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his, I Have A Dream speech, racist white people saw the folly of their ways and “gave us” Civil Rights and racism ended. Why wouldn’t I believe that when it was all that I had been taught by the people that I loved and trusted the most?
Into the Breach
This situation is what drives me to write. This is why I have numerous links about the real history of African Americans in American in Notes on my phone. This is why I continue to subject myself to these heart-wrenching, infuriating, and exhausting conversations over and over and over again. I continue to provide free education to a problematic class because I believe we have an obligation to ourselves, to our cause, and to our future to be willing to insert the truth in those moments where the system has failed us. I have to be willing to educate those who are sincerely trying to be an ally.
By all means, dismiss bad actors. Take breaks from the grind for self-care. Always speak your truth without shame. But also be wise enough to discern the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance. Between purposeful misdirection and a mistake before casting allies aside. Because the undeniable fact is that we need real allies in order to make a meaningful and lasting change. Our allies also need us, they need us as leaders who don’t give up on their efforts if they slip up; they need us to bring them to their full potential as agents of change.
What else are we to do?
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