Alright, all jokes aside for the moment…
Organized terror against black Americans(e.g., in the form of actions by the Ku Klux Klan and other antiblack groups) and state-sponsored unequal protections for black Americans by whites (or even by blacks who held a negative view of the value of black life) also signaled how much people inside or outside political institutions could be trusted to act on behalf of blacks’ interests and protection. Even blacks who internalized racism could act in ways that were adverse to black interests (Woodson1999). Moreover, blacks who did not challenge their subjugated status in society were referred to as “good,” whereas those who contested their status were referred to as “bad”(Hartman 1997).
Topics such as these almost demand a use of humor to break some of the tension. Immediately, I am begged to answer a certain question: what does it mean to be an ally? That is not as easy as typing the term in some search engine and clicking the first dictionary entry link that pops up. In dealing with contemporary identity politics, the term “ally” typically comes with a shade(pun not so intended) of pejorative. The term “ally” in most instances here are not to imply someone or some group that share an enemy or obstacle and have agreed to see that enemy defeated or obstacle overcome. In this space, it often means something different. “Ally” in this space, as much of today’s academic filtered jargon with its incessant need for hypercritical context, tends to be used as a means to belittle those that are not a part of a particular group seeking heightened visibility while battling an oppressive force. The term “ally” in this space points more often than not towards those that are actually a member of said oppressive force in some fashion.
So, initially I ran across the phrase, “male ally” used by Whyte Feminist ideologues discussing their disdain with Whyte Males attempting to “assist” them, and how their assistance was either simply a form of exploitation, or just not assisting them any way and needed to be critiqued to the point of what many might refer to as being “hen pecked” in some other spaces. Then I heard or read the phrase, “Whyte Female Ally” being bandied about in the more academic Black Feminist spaces referring to Whyte Women Feminist making Black Women invisible in Feminist narratives(which I thought was funny given the history of Black Women and Whyte Women in those particular spaces, but that’s another essay, I am sure). A few months ago, during a protest outside of the Ferguson(Missouri) Police Department, I saw a Vine clip where White supporters(?) where being asked to stand in front of Black protesters while police used a tactic of random arresting, and the phrase “White Ally” had begun to be tossed about pretty vehemently since then.
I am almost never one hundred percent sure where I stand on these sorts of issues where group and alienation based on some extremely superficial or very abstract quality are determining factors. Especially when I consider my own histories and my understanding of human behavior. It is difficult for me embrace a space that would minimize a John Brown and his Branch of the United States League of Gileadites as “ally”, but put Russell “Harriet Tubman Rape Tape” Simmons on a pedestal as brother of the struggle. It simply does not add up well to me. The fictive kinship obligation must be honored by a certain set of traditions and blatantly agreed upon rites whereby one is held accountable to the covenant of said fictive kinship. I have a problem with a space that would reduce Che Guevara to some hapless adventuring “ally” and yet treat “Fill-in-the-blank” Black Celebrity who shows up 130 plus days after it has become a popular trend to wear a t-shirt/hoodie with a murdered Black person’s last words on it in a trendy t-shirt/hoodie with a murdered Black person’s last words on it!!!
None of what I am writing is to absolve any responsibility for respecting sacred space on the part of those seeking to genuinely assist a group being oppressed, marginalized, or being made invisible by a group they might be a member of. Lawd knows, I am sick and full of disgusted gut vomit of the Tim Wise and Michael Skolnik brand of ofay-splaining and patronizingly nauseating White savorisms. However, some Whyte folks actually deserve a little more credit for their social responsible acts and deeds in spaces of US Black oppression. Once again, I am not writing this to remove any standard of testing one’s allegiance to a particular group’s cause or fight against oppression, yet, in fact, what I am writing is to expand that standard to not only those that might belong to a group or class of society that one is being oppressed by, but also to one’s own group membership. I understand the need for security of the Black voice and of any voice that is often either more easily silenced due to society not wanting to hear it, or because society has not provided that voice the proper space to give that voice’s particular narrative a hearing. For me, if a person is going through what I am going through day for day to obtain or at least lay down the ground work for justice, liberty, or whatever hip and cool phrase that means, “a cessation of the bullshyt”, then they are not my ally; they are my teammate, my comrade.
At the beginning of our discussion of Black Power, we said that black people must redefine themselves, state new values and goals. The same holds true for white people of good will; they too need to redefine themselves and their role.
Some people see the advocates of Black Power as concerned with ridding the civil rights struggle of white people. This has been untrue from the beginning. There is a definite, much-needed role whites can play. This role can best be examined on three different, yet interrelated, levels: educative, organizational, supportive. Given the pervasive nature of racism in the society and the extent to which attitudes of white superiority and black inferiority have become embedded, it is very necessary that white people begin to disabuse themselves of such notions. Black people, as we stated earlier, will lead the challenge to old values and norms, but whites who recognize the need must also work in this sphere. Whites have access to groups in the society never reached by black people. They must get within those groups and help perform this essential educative function.
One of the most disturbing things about almost all white supporters has been that they are reluctant to go into their own communities—which is where the racism exists—and work to get rid of it. We are now speaking of whites who have worked to get black people “accepted,” on an individual basis, by the white society. Of these there have been many; their efforts are undoubtedly well-intended and individually helpful. But too often those efforts are geared to the same false premises as integration; too often the society in which they seek acceptance of a few black people can afford to make the gesture. We are speaking, rather, of those whites who see the need for basic change. Yet they often admonish black people to be non-violent. They should preach non-violence in the white community. Where possible, they might also educate other white people to the need for Black Power. The range is great, with much depending on the white person’s own class background and environment.