How to be a Good Ally?

I’ve been, for a long time, disassociated from the term ‘solidarity’ — it’s been used around me far too often, and I’m never convinced the user really knows what they mean when they say it. It seems like they mean they’re walking arm in arm, and sharing the struggle with whomever it is they’re sympathizing with. The problem for me is that I see sympathy as privilege. If I’m not of a struggle, and I choose to make myself a part of it, take a vacation in it, then move on to the next struggle when the wind blows and the news cycle revolves — that’s not actually doing anything. You’re probably actually hurting the movement by getting in the way of the real work people who ARE of the struggle are trying to do. Swooping in, hero/martyr cape flapping behind you, and swooping back out again, on to the next Facebook cause…

I can’t stand in solidarity with black people, or trans people, or native people. I just can’t. And I can’t because I’m not of their struggle. I’m a tall, cisgendered white man with a deep voice and a full head of hair. I have zero problems getting what I want out of this society. The American Dream is my playbook, and if I want it, I can have it all. Very little will actually stand in my way.

I used to explain away my privilege — to myself — by recounting my childhood experiences. We were low-income, working class. Dad lived in a predominantly black neighborhood, he got himself addicted to crack, and then bailed on me when I was 15. Mom was married to a physically abusive dockworker who told me I wouldn’t amount to shit for the first 14 years of my life, and beat it into me so I wouldn’t forget. I lived in fear for years, and was stifled because of it. All of that experience with all of that shit was my excuse for not speaking up, not being better. I thought I had some perspective on the struggles of my black friends because I lived next door to it. I knew poverty and the toll it took and thought that made me somehow above the fray.

All that… and here I am. The world is my oyster because of the color of my skin and my gender.

Today, I think it’s worse to be the way I was than to be purposefully or even blindly racist — to carry a misguided sense of superiority to those Other White People — the ignorant, racist whites — because I thought somehow I was better, and if I just continued being my so-called liberated self, then that was enough.

The opportunity to be a good ally has been right under my nose for years and I’ve ignored it out of arrogance, out of ignorance.

I want to be an ally to men. I want to be an ally to white people.

We have work to do on ourselves. There are conversations about privilege that we need to have with each other.

We can start by admitting that systemic white supremacy exists, and that we are beneficiaries of it every single day whether we try to be or not.

We can share stories about the ways we’ve been racist and become more comfortable with it — accept it and move on, so that we can do something about it.

Then we can invite people of color in, and ask them to listen to our stories — told with honesty and authenticity, and asking them for nothing in return, certainly not forgiveness.

We can organize to spread this white liberation message among our peers, and organize to support people of color and their organizations in taking the lead in the fight for justice.

Every new tragedy that happens has left me more confused and feeling more powerless. What can I do? How can I help? How can I use my influence and privilege to make change? I’m told to listen and let others lead, so I do… but then that means I do nothing to actually change anything, and the cycle repeats itself. I’m going to end the cycle. I’m going to talk to whoever will listen about organizing white people to deconstruct our privilege, to lay bare all of its manifestations, and to live in recovery from it. You’re welcome to join me.

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