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Performative Ally Culture and Centrality

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So it’s 2020, Black people fully understand that those of us who are alive today were not enslaved, and that White people alive today are not trading Africans for chattel slavery. When it comes to the equity talk and anti-racism movements and fights for justice, Black people may reference slavery in order to expand on a couple things. One of them is White Supremacy ideology and the other is how White European heritage in this country impacted White people today and Black people today.

We a lot talk a lot about Colonization, how it impacted our ancestors in Africa and also how they were forced to be a part of it in America. However, colonization is not just geographical occupation. It also involves cultural occupation and policing.   It’s difficult to unlearn something that is a foundational part of your national heritage. 

When sovereign citizenship is your worldview, it’s almost impossible to fully recognize a national heritage of racial marginalization.  

When one is faced with that realization that the American heritage of racism led to more access and privilege because of the color of White skin and less access to those without it, I find that their response is either acquiescence, anger, rejection, dismissal, skepticism, apathy, silence or sympathy for marginalization.  I'm able to fairly easily recognize and respond to all except for sympathy.

 Sympathy has harmed me more than any of the others. Sympathy is tricky. The sympathetic response usually involves two narratives:

White empathy towards White sympathizers and /or White fetishization of Black pain/marginalization. Both of these narratives displace racial injustice and center the response to it.

BLM "Ally": Text

" If White women don't learn that our experiences in early racial sobriety are predictable, we think our reactions are unique. So we enter race conversations far too early and we lead with our feelings and confusion and opinions. When we do this we are centering ourselves, so we inevitably get put back where we belong, which is far from the center." -Glennon Doyle, Untamed

BLM "Ally": Text

The Grand Narrative change, must take place using a Multi-Racial approach, I mean there are only 26 million Black people in this country of 300 plus million,  but the direction on how to insert the narrative change needs to flow down from the people who have experienced repression. It is our life experienced that speaks to the how the very issue impacts us .

  This is why it is absolutely crucial to dig deep into the motivation behind responses to racial injustice.  We have to keep the main thing the main thing, and because performative activism, a form of pseudo advocacy is colonizing the sacred space of anti-racism. Historically, Black activism is about how we face life or death situations and organize around policy change. It is not for the sake of disruption alone. 

One way to interrogate the motivation behind your reaction to racial injustice is to ask:

Why do I want to help- Because I feel bad or because racism is wrong?

One Part of the question is about you and how you feel, the other part of the question is about the issue.

If the first part of the answer is your main focus, I say examine yourself further because self-centrality will always become a distraction. It feels better to receive praise for your awareness than it does for you to do the seemingly invisible work of learning. Kudos and admiration are lifeblood for the performative ally. You want to help because you want everyone to know you feel bad. It is the reward for being seen for seeing. 

This is how anti-racism becomes a cultural trend versus an effective policy change strategy.

I’ve seen this first hand on several missions trips and as an Outreach Director in inner city areas. It’s fun to sing songs, to get the hugs from the little kids on the margin. It’s what keeps people coming back. We love to be loved for our insertion into a world that we know we don’t necessarily have to insert ourselves into. However, anti-racism entails more than sympathy, selfies and apologies, and cannot be won by centering anything other than the offense that racism is. 

 Maybe the second answer is your focus. Maybe you do believe racism is wrong. In order to not live in the performative state, ultimately you will need to begin to do deeper work. One way to do that is to take stock of what anti-racist behavior looks, speaks and feels like in our own lives first, then begin the practice of positioning the experienced pain of others over your own thoughts and feelings about their pain. Finally, strategize action for specific policy change outcome.

BLM "Ally": Text
Image by James Eades
BLM "Ally": Image

The phrase “Do the Work”  is thrown around a lot. Well, here’s what real work look like:





Consistent anti-racist behavior in all of your social circles

Reparations ( Modes of repair)

We have to be community, tribal, and ancestrally restorative anti-racists if the grand narrative is going to change, but we are still nowhere near the point where we can just jump past the social justice aspect. The reparation component is necessary in order to become restorative. Affirming the variation of color and culture and ethnicity as distinctively human is essential.  We have to be Race Reframers. There is no room for performance . It's time to do this right in 2020.

Do you always find yourself, controlling the conversation about how marginalized or oppressed people should feel pain?

Recommended Readings:

Hood Feminism

How to Be an Anti-racist

BLM "Ally": Text


Do you feel that sympathy or empathy is what anti-racism calls for? What’s the difference?

Whose fight is this?

How has experiencing someone elevate their emotional response over your pain made you feel?

One can get stoned for being silent just as much for speaking out on the issue. How do we rethink our cancel culture? 

What’s your agenda? (Everyone has one), but is it self-centered or other centered?

Do you always find yourself, controlling the conversation about how marginalized or oppressed people should feel pain?

Recommended Readings:

Hood Feminism


How to Be an Anti-racist

White Fragility

BLM "Ally": Text
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