(Editor’s note: this article was written before the murder of give Dallas police officers on July 7, 2016 in response to the shooting of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police.)
The news of Alton Sterling’s death reached my social media newsfeeds first thing this morning, and with the sickening feeling I had after seeing the video of his wife and son, came another feeling that is growing more and more familiar to me–a feeling of responsibility.
In recent years, I have been invited into relationship, mentorship, community and reconciliation by a number of merciful black friends and communities online. They have taught me, made themselves vulnerable to me, and given me a new perspective on race in America.
And they have rightfully burdened me with the responsibility of an ally. Yet every time there is another incident to respond to in our country, I end up with the same fear welling up in my belly.
I look at my black friends; cries, like this one posted by friend Alisha today:
I keep checking in on the pages of my white friends/associates/colleagues to see if they have anything to say about #AltonSterling. An article share.
A comment here.
A Facebook reaction there.
An inbox comment asking what they can do, if anything.
When animals are abused, you’re outraged!
When the planet is suffering because of global warming you’re in an uproar!
When your personal “hobbies” are compromised because of local legislation you’re in a tizzy!
Even when people across the globe are killed by militarized police force or terrorists, you share share share articles and memes because your “compassion” just runs over – in Jesus’ name.
But today (and most days when these things happen) you’re silent.
We see you. We notice. We will not forget.
And all I can think is, “Oh friend, I don’t want to be your ally.”
Alisha has been a kind and patient mentor to me and I cherish her as a friend.
So I think it is an unselfish thought on my behalf, to not want to be her ally, it is me caring about my black friends. Because if I am what they have for an ally, well then, they don’t have very much at all. But mostly, if I look honestly at myself, what I am saying to them is, “I value my fear more than I value your pain. I would rather sit in my own mild discomfort than embrace your lament.”
Here is the laundry list of reasons I recite to myself to justify that stance as generous. Maybe they will sound familiar to you.
10 Reasons I Don’t Want to Be Your White Ally:
- I’m afraid I don’t know enough. I still find out most of what I know about race and racial incidents in our country from my black friends. And I am embarrassed by that. I feel like I should know more than I do by now.
- I’m afraid I don’t “get it”. Even after I read the links and listen to the reactions and responses of my black friends, I am afraid I don’t really “get” what is happening and its societal implications. I am afraid I’ll make a comment that leaves my ignorace showing.
- I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong. I always get tied up in what is the best article to link to, whose voice I should elevate, the vocabulary of reconciliation and race relations. And I am terrified to do it wrong. This is important work. And I don’t want to do it poorly. But if I am honest, mostly I don’t want to make a mistake and have to be corrected. I am afraid to admit I am still learning.
- I’m afraid I’ll be more offensive than I am helpful. Whew. This is a biggie. I care deeply about my friends of color. I do not want to be salt in their wounds. When they are hurting and grieving and angry, I do not want to say something that will make that pain worse. I am more willing to offend with my silence than I am with my voice. And that leads me to ask a deeper question, “Why would that be?” The next part of this list answers that.
- I’m afraid of what it might cost me. I live in a foreign country. I do not have an opportunity to engage the conversation about race outside of social media. So when I do speak up, I am opening myself to a lot of vitriol I’d rather not face. I hate conflict. It makes me sick and anxious. I hate social media conflict even more. And I know there are holes in my arguments (see above), so I worry I won’t stand up to the criticism that will inevitably be launched at me. I am afraid it will hurt to stand up for my black friends. And if I am honest, I am selfishly unsure if I am ready to pay the cost.
- I’m afraid of my own sins and prejudices. There. I said it. I am slowly undoing the thoughts and associations I grew up with. I am diversifying the voices I listen to. I am thinking and praying and responding differently to issues of race. But every time I really dig in to the conversation, I have to confront myself again. And name my own sins and prejudices. It is hard soul work and sometimes I want to get tired and give up. Which is embarrassing as hell, because I know the fatigue of my friends of color and I feel like a sad, little white girl wimp.
- I’m afraid it won’t be enough. I can do little. And so little seems to ever change. And what if what I can do seems not enough to my friends.
- I’m afraid of your anger. Not because I think you are wrong for feeling it. But because I do not know what to do or how to respond and constantly saying “I’m sorry” feels just plain stupid after a while.
- I’m afraid of your pain. The history of race in America and where your pain comes from involves in some way or another where I came from. I do not know how to face that well. I do not how to move forward with you given that.
- I’m afraid I’m in it for the wrong reasons. I’m a late ally. I showed up late, learned too slowly and have said not enough. And all that makes me wonder why now? Am I guilt-laden? Socially motivated? Looking to save face?
If you have gotten to this point, I am pretty sure you want to scream as much as I do right now. Because when I list out all my “unselfish reasons” for not wanting to be a white ally to my black friends, the irony is painfully obvious. They are all about me…”I. I. I. I. I.”
White friends and allies, this is where we are falling short. Because it is, of course, not about us. And our black friends are waiting for us to realize it. And to get over ourselves. And get the hell into the fight in however we can, regardless of how it makes us feel, how much it costs us, or how afraid we are.
They are waiting for us to arrive at a place where there is no option for us to opt out. As there is none for them. Where no excuse, no fear, no shame gets us out of the conversation. Just as it doesn’t for them.
And they are waiting patiently for friendship that runs to pain and hurt and learns to lament, beyond our own fears and feelings and concerns.
I don’t want to be the white ally for my friends. Because I am selfish, and sinful, and afraid. That is not a valid excusefor a Christian, especially if I try to polish it up as a kindness to my black friends.
They are not impressed with my humility, my inadequacy or my self-deprecation. And they need not be. Because there is nothing genuine in it. It is an egotistical fear that has brought us to this point. And they have a right to demand more from me if I am to call myself their friend.
I am coming to realize there is no way to be a friend without being an ally at this point in our history. Love doesn’t win in private if I am silent publicly. Reconciliation doesn’t happen behind closed doors and not affect how I respond publicly. When a black men’s death shows up on my social media newsfeed, I have a responsibility to respond. To lament. To enter the pain. To accept the anger. To elevate the voices of the marginalized and oppressed. To educate myself, my children, and my circle of influence. To demand justice. To advocate. To speak.
And if I am not ready to do so, so be it. But let me call it what it is, selfish, willful ignorance. Sin. I will not feign humility any longer where I have let sin lead. I will repent. And I will be your ally, friends. I will work to be a better one day by day. Because your pain matters. Your life matters. #AltonSterling’s life matters.#Blacklivesmatter.
This article originally appeared at Blessed Are the Feet.