A while ago I was sent an e-mail asking what I felt that white women could do to be good allies. I have decided to answer that question with this post. If someone wants to be a good ally the very first thing that you need to do is learn. That’s right folks, get your 101 on. Frederick Douglas once said, “A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.” There is nothing more infuriating than getting into a discussion with someone, only to find that they don’t know the most basic facts and yet have the nerve to profess the correctness of their position. It is further aggravating to be deemed the mystical negro and be forced to play the roll of teacher repeatedly.
All of my life I have been forced to learn about whiteness. If I wanted to learn Black history, Indigenous history, Asian history, I had to seek it out for myself. My father had an excellent library and it was there I would find The Outsiders, The autobiography of Malcolm X, Uncle Toms Cabin, Roots: The saga of an American Family and various other treasures that would teach me about why it was so difficult to of be color in this world. It was there that I first learned the names Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Booker T Washington. W.E B DuBois, Gwedolyn Brooks, Frederick Douglas, Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neal Hurston. I have spent most of my life trying to understand why it is that Blackness equals inferior and Whiteness equals good.
I recall reading The Bluest Eye and realizing that a little Breedlove existed in me. When I was about five years old, I had a fascination with blue eyes; I was still too young to realize that I had already internalized Whiteness as the ultimate good. When I read that Negro blood is sure powerful — because just one drop of black blood makes a colored man. One drop — you are a Negro! ... Black is powerful.’ – Lanston Hughes; I learned that perhaps it was fear that inspired the derision. There is great fear that Whiteness will be consumed by our majesty and grace and that spurs much virulent anger.
When I was child I was never the “special girl” in school; demeaned and reduced, I learned to hide my vinegar tears and seek solace in books. I am and continue to be an avid reader though the answer to how a human heart can hold such anger and bias towards another, continues to evade me.
Throughout my life I have made friends with various White women and it was these interchanges that finally taught me not to trust. Even as we shared our struggles as women, race would ultimately serve as a divider. White privilege continues to be the stumbling block upon which so many stumble. It matters not whether I speak eloquently or from a place of mottled rage, the result is the same. It is far easier to oppress than to grant another respect and personal freedom. Time and time again, I have been forced to choose between maintaining a friendship or honouring my hard won sense of dignity.
Familiarity is routinely assumed to grant the right to use oppressive and or demeaning language because what is a joke between friends? Though I would speak of its hurtfulness, it was my sensitivity that was ultimately deemed the problem. Toni Morrison stated in her Nobel Lecture, “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge,” and the truth of this is understood only by those who know intimately what it is to exist as the eternal “other”.
I have been called a angry, irrational, and overly sensitive. I know all to well what it is to be excluded from spheres only to see White women bond and affirm their shared sisterhood. I have been told to watch my tone and silenced repeatedly while listening to White voices soar over mountaintops.
If you want to be an ally to WOC, I would suggest taking the time to learn what has not been taught to you in schools. Learn Black history and the names of our sheroes and heroes; learn their accomplishments and why they are important to us. When you choose to spend time around Black women and claim to be a friend, don’t betray that friendship by falling back on your privilege when race inevitably becomes an issue.
Take the time to listen to what we are saying and though you can never completely understand, try and put yourselves in our place and understand the anguish and the pain. Stop looking to us to provide you with the answers. Racism is perpetrated against us by whiteness and therefore some of the solutions need to come from you.
Being an ally means standing up when it is difficult. Call out others when they are being racist so that they learn that such commentary is unacceptable. It is enough to state that you don’t agree with our position without reducing our arguments to the rantings of a deranged, angry, over sensitive shrew. Don’t ask us to temper our words for your discomfort. There is no need to qualify your statements with “I don’t agree with everything you say but”…. No one agrees 100% with anyone and such commentary only devalues any point we have to make and is an expression of privilege. Finally, if you know damn well that you are not informed about the issues at hand, that would be your cue to STFU&L.