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I am a good person. I have a “Black Lives Matter” sign on my lawn. I was shocked by the murder of George Floyd and said so on social media. I always promote hashtags like #sayhername. My white friends have thanked me for my bravery and praised me for “speaking truth to power.” But I haven’t heard from any Black people. What am I doing wrong?
A White Ally
Sigh. It sounds like you are what’s called a “performative ally.” Let’s start with the presumption that you mean well and talk about how you can do better.
What is “performative allyship?” It can cover a lot of behaviors but basically, it’s the practice of using words and posts that promote your own virtue instead actually helping the causes you are intending to highlight. How do you know you are falling into this trap? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
-Do your actions center around you and do you hope to get recognized for your virtue?
-Do you continue to express outrage and surprise at the conditions of marginalized communities? Ally, this isn’t breaking news for most of us.
-Do you try to throw shame onto others to deflect your own accountability in systematic white supremacy? For instance, it’s easier to post a photo condemning a Proud Boys march than to examine why you chose to live in a predominantly white community, or ask yourself what you’ve done to change it.
None of this is really helpful, except to highlight your own perceived “wokeness.”
How can you be more of a true ally? Start by educating yourself—there’s no shortage of materials to learn about anti-racism. Turn your words into action. (And Ally, this does NOT mean posting a selfie from a BLM protest.) Call people out for racist remarks. Vote for leaders who will make institutional change. Check on the anti-racism policies in your own community—from your church or synagogue or mosque to your local police department. Act with your wallet— both by donating to social organizations and by supporting BIPOC owned businesses.
Ally, recognize that you do not have to center yourself in your efforts. Posting against racism as a white person from your home is not the same as experiencing and fighting racism every day of your life. Try to move towards advocating in ways that are not about you. Follow BIPOC activists and leaders on social media and repost. And if you have a platform, lend it to those individuals or organizations.
And thanks for trying to become a better advocate. Write again to let us know how you’re doing.
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