So you want to be an ally? Newsflash: it’s not up to you.

I am writing this as a white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, middle-class British female in her early twenties.

When Ropa asked me to write about white allyship, I initially said, ‘of course, if you think that it could be positive’.

Then I tried to write it.

And stopped.

Tried again.

And walked away in frustration yet again.

This process was repeated many times.

My frustration? I felt like everything I was saying was either too simplistic, or too repetitive; too obvious, or too assured. After all, who am I to think I can write about allyship? I don’t want to be a badly placed echo of what other people are saying much more articulately on other platforms. I don’t want to suggest in any way that I am an ‘authority’ on this subject or that the allyship I try to build into my life is an ‘archetype’ or ‘ideal’ in any way, or even makes me an ally anyway.

So how to write this blog? Or is it even right to try?

Around my fiftieth draft, I articulated to a friend the conflict I was having over whether I should write a blog on this topic, and how to write anything worth reading. She pointed out that maybe that’s the point: maybe that’s what you should write about.

My title is the only thing that has remained from draft one and it highlights that discomfort in writing about being an ally. I cannot ‘identify’ as a white ally. I can only work hard every day to try and be one, and to practice allyship.

‘White womxn, stay in your lane. Leading anti-racism work is not it. This is not your work to lead. This is your work to do. Follow, amplify, center and pay Black womxn’
Monique Melton

Ropa and I previously had a conversation about our fears and conflict over ‘contributing to the noise’. We agreed that when developing your own voice to speak into these issues, you must ensure that what you are saying is constructive and worth something, formed with integrity and serious thought. As a white person, my voice should not be centralised in talking about race because being conscious of my race and experiencing racism is not my lived experience. But I can talk about whiteness and use my privilege to speak out and speak up. I am not neutral; I have a race. For me, that race gives me a privilege I must actively work to dismantle to make a fairer and more equal society. When I have nothing to add to discussions, I must recognise the role I can play in amplifying black people's voices.

This blog contains no easy answers. But that’s exactly the point. Being an ally is all about the questions: the world we live in should be questioned, scrutinised and changed. Because the structures and institutions that dictate the world we live in are unequal, oppressive, prejudiced, discriminatory, and harmful. For change to start happening, we need to question what is in place, every step of the way.

There is no endpoint. There is no finish line, and no appraisal to be gained. One can be an effective ally one day and then mess up the next. I wonder whether the use of ally as a noun is misleading because allyship must be more active than that. It should be a verb. ‘Allying’: the process of doing something. And doing it all the time, not just when the time and place suits. Being an ally is not a switch that can be flicked on and off. It’s a constant state of vigilance, recognising that being vigilant against racial prejudice is the least we - as white people- can do, when black people have had to be vigilant against racial prejudice aimed at them for centuries.

CONTEXT

‘Black Lives Matter is a catchy slogan. But right now, action is what really matters.’ Joseph Harker for The Guardian, June 11 2020

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013. The movement was founded in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Why is this important to note? The movement is not brand new: ‘a movement not a moment’. And before #BlackLivesMatter, black voices were speaking up and telling us of the police violence, the racism in workplaces, schools, public transport, the incarceration rates and stop-and-search numbers. These are not all new figures. This information is not new. It’s just that many of us white folks have only just started listening. There is a reason that it is only recently that Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, published 3 years ago in 2017, has started flying off the shelves…

So for many white people right now, this information feels new: engaging with statistics of racial injustice, learning about microaggressions, ‘discovering’ that non-racism is different to anti-racism. We are sharing information that we deliberately disengaged from before, lists of books that we haven’t read yet and films we haven’t watched, following influencers who previously never made it onto our timeline. This is fighting the system in which white learning, white people and white voices are the ‘standard’. The new momentum has achieved greater outreach across the world into different communities, the power of social media and the background of a global pandemic contributing to the potency of online platforms.

WE LEARN TO UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM. WE MUST ACT TO TACKLE IT.

The big emphasis is on education. It’s the only way for us as white people to know how to engage in a way that is productive. Learning, listening, watching, reading about black experiences, black people, black lives is all so important to the movement because it leaves a legacy. Decolonising the curriculum in schools, colleges and universities will enable us to bring up a generation who can be actively anti-racist.

But we must remember what education means: it’s preparation for life. After learning, we go out and try to live it. What is learnt must be applied. Being an ally is about the actions you complete on the everyday. It’s about building new instincts, new responses, new habits, new thought patterns, until they become second nature. It’s not about allotting 5 mins of time a day to find the quick fix Instagram post to share for a performative display of allyship. Or even reading a book or listening to a podcast and learning about experiences of black people in your country. That is the place to start, but those actions aren’t going to bring about changes (see 'When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs')

‘In this sense, the answer to “What did you do?” would seem to be far more material for race relations than “What have you read?” Structural justice and public accountability facilitate consciousness raising and give it meaning beyond lip service. In the absence of concrete economic and legislative changes, consciousness raising through anti-racist reading is mere filibustering—white people learning about their privilege and power without ever having to sacrifice either.’