you’re not really an “ally” if you must be spoken to in a “nice” tone in order to show up

April 11, 2017
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Two days ago, New York Times best-selling author and blogger Luvvie Ajayi set off an internet firestorm when she posted a status critiquing “fauxtivist” of color who are too harsh on white allies, among other things:

Besides the fact that the post utilized one of the worst portmanteaus ever conceived, many took offense to the status because its indirectness made it seem as though it was a sub aimed at a number of Black activists and organizers (it was later revealed to be in response to personal drama between her and Arkansas-based activist Jazmine Banks, that probably could have stayed personal). Myself having outlined why the feelings of white allies shouldn’t be centered in Black liberation work here, here, here, and here, among many other occasions, Luvvie’s status could have easily been (and effectively was) an attack on the work I do, and definitely implicated many of the writers and organizers whose work has been pivotal in Black folks getting free.

De-centering the comfort of the white ally from the work of Black liberation is crucial for a number of reasons. When being “nice” to allies becomes the main concern, Black people who don’t have the capacity for such emotional labor for even the most valid reasons become “the problem.” Although anti-Blackness has always been the crux of the issue, it is dethroned as the primary target for deconstructing, and the tired trope of “angry Black people” becomes the target instead. This quickly lends itself to victim-blaming and other ways of putting the onus on Black folks to rectify a violence they did not cause though always experience. It is tone-policing 101, and Black people should not bear the responsibility of perfecting their tone before their lives should matter.

Luvvie argued that when the feelings of white allies aren’t centered, they “shut up, and clam up, and stay home, because they’ve been told that the fight is not theirs.” But if not promising a smooth journey is all it takes for an ally to choose to allow racism instead, their fickle presence could never be depended upon in the first place. We need to truly reevaluate the types of people we allow into our most intimate spaces of liberation work, especially when we continue to prioritize conditional white allies who benefit from the status quo and are therefore easily deterred over Black folks who are consistently working against the violence they face and are justifiably angry.

When Luvvie and others argue that “White folks gotta do this work too,” they should ask themselves what, exactly, is “this work.” I would hope the answer is continually revealing itself to be all of us finding a way out of this oppressive system of whiteness. And if white people are to find their way out of this, it does not require holding their hand or coddling their feelings; in fact, it requires that they do not expect, ask for, or even accept any hand-holding, as these are all ways a system in which Black and Brown people do the majority of the labor while experiencing the brunt of the violence is reinforced.

And, eventually, we need to combat the lie that “OTHERWISE if it was for US to fix by ourselves, we woulda BEEN done it.” As California-based activist Avon Bellamy explains, “White supremacy/anti-blackness has not been dismantled […] So […] in essence, the reality is nothing substantive in the sociopolitical and socioeconomic lives of Blacks that has been nationally meaningful has been accomplished in coalitions with Whites. And the closest we’ve come to these things have been instituted by collective, internal efforts, such as the many ‘Black Wallstreets’ and the Garveyite movement. Things that failed not because we could not do it without [white people], but because they actively killed or destroyed us for doing it without them.”

We need to recognize the intricate systems Black folks have created to care for and sustain one another completely intra-communally–the aunties who watched us when our mother had to work or was locked up or institutionalized or killed by police, the neighbor who let us borrow sugar when we had no more left, the makeshift daycares in every hood, the elders who spend their lives teaching and protecting the kids in their community for free. These are feats of spectacular magnitude that have only been done in spite of white people–enemy and ally alike. Rather than always over-emphasizing the limited progress we’ve made by always bearing the full responsibility for solidarity, imagine what we could do if there were no incumbrance to these efforts?

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.