I’m leading a group discussion circle on “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. I’m taking the journaling challenge daily throughout February even though I’m not white. If you happen to be white, why not take the challenge? If I can do it, you can do it too.
Day 19 Questions (from the text):
1. How have you practiced optical allyship when it comes to antiracism?
2. What benefits have you sought out and/or received by practicing optical allyship?
3. How have you responded when called out for optical allyship?
4. How have you felt when you have not been rewarded for your acts of optical allyship?
5. How has your motivation to show up in allyship been dependent upon what other people think about you or how you are perceived?
In week 3 we’ve reached the section on allyship. As this section by definition cannot apply to me personally, I will share some observations that may be helpful for my allies and would-be allies.
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The concept of optical allyship goes through my mind continually, and I am Black, so I imagine navigating this concept as a white person must get even more confusing than I understand it to be. I’ve often missed or downright avoided opportunities to do real good for fear of not wanting to appear performative. Re-read that sentence and consider how damn ridiculous it is. I’m getting better about it.
It’s something I am continually coming to terms with as someone who quite by accident fell into the position of “leader” for racial equity, but since then has made the decision to use what reach I’ve incidentally gained to help propagate a message of diversity, equity, and inclusion. How does one best spread that message without drawing undue attention and/or centering oneself? It’s a tightrope walk for sure.
However here’s what I personally have come to find is a pretty useful litmus test:
If you sometimes feel hesitant, vulnerable, uncomfortable, or downright afraid when engaging in allyship (or social justice work), and you do it despite this, that’s a pretty good sign that you are risking something by doing so. If you ever have felt the thanklessness that is often emblematic of this work, and kept doing it anyway, that’s another good sign. In my experience, very few people will risk or concede something tangible for the cause with little or no return unless their motives are based in altruism and not the appearance of altruism.
In this chapter we see a perfect example of an “ally” that isn’t willing to concede anything. The woman that invited the author to speak wasn’t willing to concede her time or her preconceived notions of “allyship” by doing the journaling challenge. She wasn’t willing to use her position of privilege and authority at her own event to help protect her invited POC guest, even hypothetically.
It’s no wonder that the author was wary about being invited into “a space that had historically lacked BIPOC representation” and “had not to date had meaningful and challenging conversations about race”. The astute among you might ask me, “Hey Kev — didn’t the author miss an opportunity to educate these seemingly misguided white people? how do you have meaningful challenging, conversations about race, without POC, and how do you get POC to be interested in participating in a largely white space without meaningful, challenging conversations about race? Isn’t this a chicken and egg problem?”
I’m so glad you asked.
First of all, there are times when POC are willing and/or able to carry that burden and times when we are not. We reserve that right to make that call on a case by case basis. Recall that it isn’t her job to do that unless she knows what she’s confronting and chooses to take it on despite that.
Second, It might be a chicken/egg situation if white people were not perfectly capable of having meaningful, challenging conversations about race on their own, in the absence of requiring POC to take that on for them. I imagine in a world where there are not already a number of resources at your fingertips and accessible via your screen, POC might be necessary to facilitate these conversations, but we don’t live in that world. There are literally thousands of folks of color pleading for you to hear their voices, songs, poems; watch their TikToks; read their writings — I am but one paltry example.
Also, isn’t it true that those white folks who are bad at talking about race in a meaningful, challenging, and sensitive way exist because those same white folks very seldom talk about race in meaningful, challenging, and sensitive ways? To me that’s the real chicken and egg problem.
Besides, it’s not as though we are trying to keep this information from you. Quite the contrary. The only person who can succeed in accomplishing that is you.