CSWAC Blog

Growing Edges for White Allies

August 1, 2012

As a 30-year veteran of the movement, I know one thing for sure: the struggle against racism is the most unforgiving. It is in no way like saving the animals or the environment, important issues in which I participate and act as an ally.  As an African American, I have to prioritize anti-racism work. And the reaction to those of us who take on that struggle is as ugly and stressful as it gets.

Recently I have had the honor of fighting gentrification in wealthy Westchester County, NY, alongside a gallant group of White anti-racism workers. This experience has been an education for me.

To begin with, the White anti-racism movement does not mean liberals or even progressives. Those groups generally don’t even discuss racism.

To me, the White anti-racism movement means White people recognizing the advantages and privileges White skin affords them, recognizing that White people created and benefit from this system and they are taking responsibility to address it.

Most of my career, Whites have sought me out and offered their “support.” Whether the issue was police brutality, youth issues or institutional racism, that “support” often took the form of Whites (1) judging us (Blacks) (2) knowing (and telling us) what was best for us and (3) having the solution to the problem. That solution was, with few exceptions – vote Democrat! Or some other solution that advanced their cause, not ours.

I was somewhat skeptical when I reached out to anti-racism activists in Westchester a few years ago. I read a lot of critical writings about them taking over, undermining Black leadership and doing more harm than good. I went into this thinking that all of that is possible, but also believing that we need to continue this alliance and develop more constructive relationships, work through the mistakes – on both sides – and stumble forward.

So I did that and have no regrets. Even as I say that, I am reminded that despite African Americans (and Whites) recognizing my leadership, some of my new allies treated me as if my community’s support wasn’t good enough for them and so I had to “prove” myself to them. I had to learn to be patient when my White allies implied that I was “angry.” They didn’t understand the insult to my dignity when they did that. Whites get angry (they even riot) over such spectacles as the World Cup (soccer). I react, not in anger, but with a healthy reaction to insults to the human dignity of Black people.  We may need to create a word for that reaction ourselves.

Some in the white anti-racism movement also seem guilty of playing the “Uncle Tom” or “Aunt Jemima” game. They use Blacks –  usually middle class – to sell their ideology to poor Blacks who have a much different experience from middle class Blacks. Some Whites seem sub-consciously to think we should “calm down.”

These are issues that we in the anti-racism movement need to grapple with. Gandhi called his autobiography The Story of My Experiments With Truth. We are in one big laboratory when we struggle against racism and White supremacy. And we should not fear that, but embrace it. That is the only way to get stronger, wiser and more successful.