Sarah Hidey, Senior Financing Associate at Joining Vision and Action
This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend an event at Shorter Community AME Church, Urgent Call to Action for White & Non-Black POC Allies, which was organized by Indivisible Denver at the request of the Movement for Black Lives. This event was specifically directed at white community members (and non-black people of color) who want to fight racism and white supremacy in our communities and country, but who wanted to learn how to do this effectively in partnership with communities of color who are on the front lines, not with our own agendas. It was essentially an Introductory 101 on How to Be An Ally.
Why did I attend?
As a white American, I know that I am privileged. And I know that I live within an economic and political system that was built on the oppression of people of color. Although this angers me, I also know that I benefit from this system. In fact, my privilege allows me to “opt-out” of the discussion of racism in this country if I wanted, to remain “neutral” if you will. I know that I am not alone in feeling inadequately knowledgeable about how to dismantle this institutional racism, and not knowing where to start. Sure, I could easily go to a protest or march and feel good about myself, but I wanted to know if this was the best way I should be involved. Or if there was something more effective. I felt helpless. Although I had good intentions (as many of us do), I did not know what to do or say to actually help (and not hinder) the movement. As any of us who work in the social sector know, good intentions do not always equal good results. Thus, I went to this event, wanting to learn how to effectively ally with communities of color to dismantle white supremacy and racism within the economic and political system that has institutionalized racism in America. I didn’t know how to be an effective ally, and I wanted to learn.
Sitting in a church that had once been burnt down by the KKK was unsettling in itself, but also inspiring to see that the church did not back down in the face of oppression, but rebuilt, and is now a voice for the marginalized in Denver. This event was not designed to make white allies feel good about themselves. It was designed to make all of us uncomfortable—to challenge us to wrestle with what our actions should be to help and not harm or hinder the movement, and to look deep inside at our own complicity. There was a call to reflect on our own privilege and where we exist within these systems — and what we can do to work to dismantle them.
Were there easy answers? No. But I had several key takeaways that I continue to reflect upon. First, to think of “ally” as a verb, not a noun. To ally is “to act in solidarity with.” How can I better act in solidarity WITH communities of color who are fighting racism and white supremacy, instead of thinking that I may know best?
- LISTEN FIRST to leaders within the black community and always seek knowledge from them. Be open to learning. Follow their blogs and read the resources they provide or post about.
- Look inward at my own biases and my participation in structures or institutions that perpetuate racism (i.e., don’t just look outward at white supremacists). It’s not just about the overt racists. What role do we all play?
- Don’t act in isolation—accountability from communities of color is key. But be careful to do this without placing an additional burden on them.
- Don’t ask for comfort or recognition. In fact, expect no gratefulness or recognition for any actions I take. That is missing the point.
- Do not say that I am colorblind. Acknowledge that we ALL see race.
In addition to asking each of us present to identify concrete actions to take, almost every person in the room stood up to commit to the following:
- Explicitly and consistently denouncing white supremacy on every platform. SAY IT.
- Celebrating black life by supporting grassroots communities, sharing work produced by people of color and shopping from black-owned businesses.
- Engaging in self-reflection on where we exist within these systems. Keep learning.
Did I get all my questions answered? No. But I am glad there was space for us to learn and a system created for accountability. Indivisible Denver will be creating a platform with resources from the Movement for Black Lives, as well as other leaders within this movement to dismantle racism in the United States. I am looking forward to the upcoming event at Shorter Community AME on Thursday, August 31, 7pm—Getting Real: A Raw Conversation about Race—moderated by Dr. Nita Mosby and Dr. Timothy Tyler.