Letter to the Editor: How to be an ally in social justice movements

By Serge Azor

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, expectedly, there is a sudden and great influx of posts, stories, videos and pictures of calls-to-action and information relating to race relations and how to be a “white ally.”

From what I’ve noticed it’s more or less spouting the same rhetoric of checking privilege, understanding bias/prejudices and how to be aware, involved and communicate these concepts to others.

While I greatly understand the power and validity in some of these posts as a legitimate form of protest, my problem lies with the act of performative white allyship and its implicit belief that social media is the final frontier of activism.

The sudden influx of awareness and “activism” is without its true weight and meaning if not followed by an ongoing commitment and duty to this work, stemming from a place of educated intent, not just goodwill, egoistic saviorism and allyship.

What is performative white allyship? It takes many different forms:
It is the white girl, Renee Bach, moving to Uganda and attempting to heal people through western medicine with no medical degree or prior training, killing 105 children as a direct result of her ignorance.

It is my plane ride to Kenya not filled with passengers who look like me, but rather white missionaries who seek to “help” people and a culture they do not understand, while also saying, “Be careful not to show off your technology or valuables. These people will notice and they will try to steal from you.”

It is not caring about the everyday violence that contributes to black genocide until it is impossible to look away and then sharing every Instagram post and tweet you come across to cushion your white guilt and “make up” for this unseeing.

It is sharing the quippy or “woke” tweet or post for the sake of social clout and mindlessly following the trend of being “woke” without internalizing and properly digesting any of the information you are sharing.

It is the post that says education is the key to opening up a conversation and creating change without actually indicating what the education is and where to find it.

It is the post saying to be sensitive to your black, indigenous and people of color friends without describing what that language or dialogue looks and feels like.

It is the posts that tell you “these things still go on” without labeling “these things” as the racial violence that continues to this day as a direct consequence of slavery and the systems and institutions such as the privatization of prison mass-incarceration—and at large capitalism—that do not just allow “these things” but their very purpose and nature of existence that thrive on them.

It is the gratification of calling yourself a “white ally” despite never commenting or talking about black issues previously.

It is sharing videos of police brutality despite being told not to because you do not understand how traumatic it is for black people. It reinforces racist and structural ideas that the black body exists solely to be fetishized and commodified.

It is mindlessly sending copied text with a list of petitions to sign, numbers to call and places to donate to your black friends, and not understanding how that is insensitive, patronizing and taking ownership over the cause.

It is when you care more about receiving justice after a man is murdered than changing and abolishing the system that allowed it to happen.

This is the nature of performative white allyship and its existence—much like oppression and many other institutions—need to be challenged and destroyed.

Don’t just share a post and move on, interrogate the nature of what the post is saying and what it means in regards to you. Don’t just donate this one time to this one particular cause; continue to support your local Black creatives and grassroots organizations.

Don’t just show up to protest now, then continue to do nothing when all this “blows over.” Keep protesting and fighting against these fixed systems and everyday acts of violence against black individuality and the black community at large.

Here are just a few questions you can ask yourself now to begin this process:

1. How are you interrogating anti-Blackness in yourself and in your communities?
2. How do you try and to support/better the material conditions of Black people regularly?
3. If you don’t, why not and where can you start?
4. How can you go out of your way to enhance your political education?
5. Are you able to identify the covert forms of anti-Black propaganda that appear in media and everyday life?
6. Are you able to identify micro-aggressions and do you call them out in yourself and in others when faced with them?