This year, unlike any other, people have been examining the best ways to achieve effective allyship. Due to the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, many white people have decided that “listening and learning” about the Black plight was the best place to start in terms of becoming a necessary ally, seemingly vowing to begin the work towards combatting systemic racism.
With pledges to be better allies for the Black community, millions participated in the #BlackoutTuesday trend on Instagram over the summer. Similarly, Twitter timelines were flooded with GoFundMe’s and other donation links to support victims of police brutality as well as grassroot organizations dedicated to helping the Black community. Anti racism books were selling out in bookstores like never before. Many white celebrities were also acknowledging Black Lives Matter publicly for the first time. Black artists were being commissioned for their work at higher rates. And in an unprecedented fashion, Black owned businesses were made a priority by white consumers.
This is all indicative of a support in which is now seeing a decline.
Consequently, the emptiness of those promises from many who sought to become better allies are quickly being exposed. Here we are, about six months into the movement, and white America is largely back to being so engulfed in its privilege. Not only are they silent, but they are also blatantly unsupportive of racial matters.
In September, Pew Research Center conducted a study to gauge the public support for Black Lives Matter months after the murder of George Floyd. The study found, “A majority of U.S. adults (55%) now express at least some support for the movement, down from 67% in June amid nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd. The share who say they strongly support the movement stands at 29%, down from 38% three months ago.”
I suspect the decline in support for Black Lives Matter is because the movement is demanding police abolition, perpetuating current mainstream slogans such as “abolish/defund the police.” Only months after white people pledged to commit themselves to learning anti racist efforts, many are now complaining about the “jargon” most Black Lives Matter activists use. According to critics on social media, the calls to “abolish” and “defund” the police are too harsh and unsettling to ever succeed at convincing the public or politicians to implement critical systematic change. What is meant by “the public,” however, is white people.
Black Lives Matter activists don’t need to change their rhetoric or marketing strategy to accommodate white people’s comfort levels. It’s not up to Black people to make liberation more palatable to white sensibilities. Rather, it’s up to white people to at least do some of the work towards dismantling racism on their own.
The interrelated work of police and prison abolition has been a field of Black activism for centuries. Civil rights activist, W.E.B. Dubois highlighted the injustice of oppressive policing and incarceration on Black people in an essay titled, “The Negro Criminal” published in 1899.
In describing the oppressive, systemic conditions that breed crime and the perceived inherent criminality of Black people Dubois states, “Crime is a phenomenon of organized social life, and is the open rebellion of an individual against his social environment… [It] is a phenomenon that stands not alone, but rather as a symptom of countless wrong social conditions.” With this in mind, the work towards abolition is not by any means a new or extraordinarily radical concept. Additionally, Angela Davis, a long-time prison abolitionist, has been writing about the failed policing and prison systems in America since the 1970’s.
Therefore, the problem at large is not the language Black Lives Matter uses. The problem lies with white people wanting to be spoon fed liberation efforts and coddled into revolution because white privilege makes it difficult for them to de-center themselves from the foreground.
For Black people, the fight against racism is an exhausting one; it always has been and always will be. Largely because we are constantly forced to deal with the consequences of racism while simultaneously bearing the sole responsibility of dismantling it. Allyship does not look like being hyper-critical of Black people’s civil rights movements. True allyship is a long-term fight which emphasizes self-reliant education and centers the oppressed, not the oppressor. Rather than continuously policing Black people’s demands for justice- simply listen to Black folks.
Effective allyship means recognizing your privilege, taking accountability by learning the history of marginalized groups, practicing empathy and using what you’ve learned to ignite others into becoming allies.
So, as we end the year and begin anew, the work towards equality will continue. Activists in the Black communities have long shown their dedication to the fight. I guess everyone else, on the other hand, is still working on fulfilling their ineffectual promises.
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