I attended a protest last night in Toronto, hot on the heels of the Ferguson grand jury decision about whether or not Officer Darren Wilson should stand trial for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The protest itself was passionate and attended by those who want to see change in our society when it comes to people of colour (POC) and their right to live their lives without fear of being killed for simply being black. Many wonderful, empowering things were said, and many voices were heard. I was honoured to be a part of it – but that’s the point of this post. It’s not about me.
On Twitter today, I caught wind of a few people tweeting some disbelief at a Globe and Mail headline, on the hashtag #Ferguson2TO. According to the article, white people who call themselves allies were upset that they weren’t being recognized for attending the Toronto protest, upset that the media was focusing on what had been said by the organizers and speakers, many of whom are POC. They were disappointed that their efforts weren’t being talked about, that they weren’t being placed front and centre in the media.
My first reaction, as an ally that is by far not perfect, is anger and disbelief. Seriously, guys? In a situation where the entire thing is set up to support those who live this injustice daily, you’re upset that it wasn’t about you? You’re saddened that you were asked to stay on the sidelines, to let black people speak without interruption in the face of the overwhelming racism and fear they experience daily? Really?
I’m reaching for some sort of understanding here and I’m having trouble, because I just can’t comprehend this sort of massive narcissism. For one, as an ally, your job is to stay quiet when marginalized folks are speaking about their experiences. You are to listen, not interject. If other white people are struggling to understand racism, your job is to educate so that people of colour don’t have to. Your job is not to interject yourself into spaces that are not about you, conversations that you cannot understand on any sort of deep level.
And I get that I sound harsh, but come on. This is How to Be An Ally 101. We all make mistakes, and I have spoken when I shouldn’t have, said ignorant things that I later kicked myself for. We’re human. But when it comes to something of this scale, to actually attend a protest that has set itself up clearly to be about black people, their fear, their stories, their words, well. You should know better than to cry about not being recognized. This isn’t about you. And you need to do better.
As allies, we’re not in it for the cookies and the headpats, and we shouldn’t be. Our society revolves around white comfort and white privilege. We’re already headpatted for just being white – and I include myself in that, as a Native woman, because I pass for white and was raised white. It takes a long time to realize privilege and fight against that, but as an ally, you know that already. You know all this already.
We don’t need to hear appreciation and fawning from people of colour, because that’s not why we’ve stepped up to support them in the first place. We’re doing it because we inherently know that our society has been built to support inequality on many scales. We’re doing it because we want to unseat that system of power, to see everyone equal and able to access the same resources, the same general safety, the same privileges. And right now, it isn’t.
Something was said at the protest last night that has been echoing in my head since. It was, “The people united will never be defeated”. That’s what last night’s protest was about. It was about listening to the ones that are talked over, that are silenced, that are killed for simply being black. And by whining that you didn’t get recognized and that you were pushed to the sidelines, you’re once again making it about white comfort, white privilege, white supremacy.
Now, as an ally – can you see what’s wrong with this picture?
Do better. That’s it and that’s all.