Seeking, speaking, and enacting truth.
Posted Jul 01, 2020
Most people understand a social justice ally as one who is in support of or sympathetic to someone who is unjustly targeted. To me, this definition is sorely inadequate and entirely misguided.
The sympathy definition assumes that the discrimination experienced by the person being targeted is the problem of the subjugated person and that the ally is a mere spectator to that struggle. Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous. It’s a set-up for the ally to be the savior—a good Samaritan who didn’t have to but chose to help. From the jump, it absolves the ally of any wrongdoing, any complicity in the creation, maintenance, and exacerbation of the problem. As such, allyship—as both noun and verb—becomes a feel-good enterprise, a performative art to be manipulated and exploited for self-adulation and to exonerate oneself from culpability and accountability.
So then, what is true allyship?
Simply, it’s about truth. Seeking, speaking, and enacting truth.
Throughout modern history, populations of vulnerable people around the world have been targeted, criminalized, pathologized, tortured, dehumanized, and exterminated based on lies—in the case of race, the lies of white supremacy. Evidence of the ideology of white supremacy abound and dates back centuries to the start of Western imperialism.
But this is not what we learned in school or what we teach our children. If and when we do mention the unconscionable terrorism, indefensible apathy, and enduring violence at the hands of those who have and continue to benefit from white supremacy, it’s predictably diluted, glossed over, or worse, manipulated into lies in which perpetrators become heroes who save the indigent, savage people from themselves. After all, isn’t that why colonizers like Christopher Columbus are celebrated and even memorialized with holidays? Someone who intended, by his own admission, to have taken whatever he and his men wanted—that they felt entitled to that, entitled to take, steal, maim, torture, kill, and enslave those whose lands where he and his men were guests.
Allyship then is about excavating and acknowledging truths that have been historically and systematically buried, disposed, and exploited to promulgate the ideology of white supremacy. It’s about our moral and ethical mandate to urgently go looking, digging, and reclaiming truths. To interrogate what we have been told, what we have been taught, and what we have ingested and regurgitated without questioning. This is no easy task. And yet, it is what is minimally required to practice true allyship.
The ideology of white supremacy has been and remains an intractable problem, a nearly omnipotent force. For far too long, it’s been planted and deeply embedded into the intricate, intangible fabrics of culture and society. As such, to extract and dislodge it from the cavernous recesses of our individual and collective psyches requires not merely the blunt and fallible instrument of law, but the relentless, if not obsessive, personal commitment to seek it, to find it, to tell it, and to act on it.
True allyship demands that we take personal responsibility to educate ourselves about truths long denied and neglected. To resist the pull of silence. To unmute and speak truths – whenever, wherever, and to whomever. To fight against and through guilt, fragility, shame, anger, and hopelessness. To embody and enact justice, big and small, every day and in every way. This is true allyship. To be truth-seekers, truth-speakers, and truth-enactors. And until we are all truly free, this must be our work together.