With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has come the rise of the white ally. While the fight for racial justice needs all the supporters it can get, this mass wave of freshly radicalized activists doesn’t come without its share of issues. They mean well, but what many don’t realize is that trying so hard not to be racist can actually lead directly to you being racist, or, at a minimum, may make you a barrier to progress.
The issue lies in paternalism, or when those in power make decisions that are allegedly in the best interest of those who don’t look like them, live next to them, share a degree from their Ivy League alma mater… you get the idea.
Take, for example, San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s recent interview in Vogue magazine. Mayor Breed has been in the crosshairs of progressive “allies” who view her stance on defunding the police as too reserved. Mayor Breed’s thoughts on paternalistic allies co-opting the movement reflect the feelings of many Black activists.
“I have a real problem with the takeover of the movement by white people. I want people to respect the opinions and feelings of Black people and allow us to decide what is in our best interest. I talk about the plan to reduce the police budget and reallocate those resources to the African American community, and a large number of non-Blacks reached out to tell me what I should do for the Black community. Then, they say what their community deserves because of their challenges as well. That really bothered me. The Black community [of San Francisco] is capable of speaking for ourselves and deciding what’s in our best interest.”
Are we not capable of deciding what’s offensive to us? Why do others get to decide what’s best for us? And why don’t they listen when we tell them? Have some allies not learned from the rallying cry “trust Black women”?
So, if you want to be “ally,” stop trying to steer the movement. Let Black people decide what is best for them. Sit back and listen. Unpack why you believe that we are not capable of making our own decisions. Sit with that for a while.
Your job as an ally is to use your privilege to uplift the movement, not direct it. Only by dispelling the savior complex that lives inside of you and trusting Black people to provide their own solutions can anti-racist work truly begin.