Welcome. Welcome. Please come in.
My name is Deb and I’m a Recovering “Good Ally.”
By this I mean that for most of my adult life, I thought that being a white woman who didn’t laugh at racist, homophobic or misogynist jokes (and depending on the situation might even say something), worked in nonprofits with liberal missions, read authors from marginalized groups, occasionally attended a protest, supported Black Lives Matter and did my best to avoid stereotypes, I was doing my part. I’ve had friends of color (not good friends but more than acquaintances). I knew that racism and homophobia existed. But, weren’t they on the decline?
I began to realize I might not be the ally I thought I was as election results rolled in. How did I not know so many people were okay with the stuff that had been spewing from Trump’s mouth? How did I not see this coming? The point was driven home with this SNL election night skit featuring Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. But, I didn’t think I needed to enter Good Ally Recovery until months later. The more I listened to voices from marginalized groups, the more aware I became of how much I don’t know. And let me tell you, it hasn’t been an easy ride. When you’ve spent years looking in the mirror and seeing a “Good Ally”, it is painful to be shown you’ve been using a fun house mirror with a distorted reflection.
And that is why I am calling-in other “Good Allies”, particularly white, cis-gender allies who have been using the same mirror. I’m asking you to work on becoming comfortable with discomfort. Because history and human nature have shown that NOTHING of importance changes without discomfort. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual level. As long as we are happy and relatively comfortable, we have no reason to change. POC and LGBTQ+ voices that poke us in our comfort zone are doing us a favor and we need to start recognizing that.
I am asking you to join me on this journey of Recovery, beginning with getting rid of a few terms as suggested in a FB post from Ashley Story, “The words ‘ally’ and ‘woke’ really need to be retired from our vocabulary. These self proclamations are not necessary. At all. Not even a little bit. If you have to “say” you are these things, your actions probably don’t match up.” She has a very good point. As I think about this I am wondering if our need to identify this way is related to how often we expect POC and LGBTQ+ people to give us a pat on the head for doing the right thing. It’s like we expect a special dessert for coming to the table.
Next on the agenda is to truly and deeply face the fact that the white supremacy we’ve been fighting against has left its greasy fingerprints all over us. Some of those oily fingerprints can be removed with a lot of internal work. Others will remain, much like an olive oil stain on a favorite shirt that you can’t get out no matter how many times you soak it in Dawn and run it through the wash. Both types require us to get better with being uncomfortable.
If you don’t already have a spiritual or self-care practice that helps you do this, I suggest getting one. Yoga, meditation and a group of practices broadly called Feminine Embodiment come to mind. But, not all forms of these practices are created equally. Look for one that both encourages you to notice your feelings, sensations and thoughts as they are happening AND gives you tools to help you stay with them and explore what is going on. Avoid those practices that offer distraction or tools that move you quickly through or around what is happening in you.
Next we need to keep digging into our own privilege and fragility. Some ways to do this include:
- Continuing to read and listen to POC and LBGTQ+, taking special note of the times what we read or hear causes uncomfortable sensations and emotions. BUT DO NOT immediately start jumping into conversations and threads. Sit quietly and pay attention. If we are talking about Facebook, feel free to use the like button. But, remember your validation is not needed. Pay attention to when a post is directed at other POC or LGBTQ+ people. This is going to happen and you need to respect those boundaries.
- Set an intention to notice how often you want to say, “Not me” when reading and listening to these voices. I’ve been in Recovery for months and there are still times I have to sit on my hands to keep from adding a “not me” to the conversation.
- Commit to believing POC and LGBTQ+ people when they say they have been injured. Do not wait for them to show proof. Do not ask “are you sure you heard them right”? If you find yourself mentally questioning the validity of a statement, ask yourself if you’d be doing the questioning if this was a white person — and be honest with your answer.
- Journal about what triggers you. See if you can get to what is at the heart of the emotion or sensation. When I do this, I often find fear and guilt. And that gives me something more to work with than “not me”.
- If you need some hepl with journaling, try these #ExpressiveWriting Prompts to Use If You’ve Been Accused of #WhiteFragility #SpiritualBypass or #WhitePrivilege by Leesa Renee Hall (post edited to add these. Can’t believe I forgot them!)
- I highly recommend Desiree Lynn Adaway’s “Dear Sister (not just cister)” cards for both personal and group exploration of these topics. I use mine at least once a week and find the journaling prompts very helpful.
- Get curious. Google can be a good friend. But be prepared to go beyond the first page of answers. Do your own work. Scroll through to the older posts of the people you’ve decided to follow. Some of my biggest lessons have come from reading those threads. And many of the WOC I’ve been following have kindly listed links to resources in their posts. You aren’t going to know about them if you don’t got looking for them.
- Sit down with friends who have been using the same fun house mirror and have honest discussions. Just don’t get all self-congratulatory that you aren’t as bad as some.
This list is not exhaustive. If you have other suggestions, please share them.
And finally, remember that Recovery is not “one and done.” You are going to keep finding the oily fingerprints in places you thought you’d cleaned. I think this quote from an article written by a group on Medium says it well:
“Just as a recovering alcoholic is always recovering, we will always be allies-in-training. Even though I hope to be part of the solution, as a well-intentioned WP, I must recognize that I will always be part of the problem. I may have learned from POC about how to glimpse my better self, be a better friend, and stop needing recognition for being a “good ally,” but I can never fully understand their world or experience their truths.”
If you aren’t sure of whom to follow, here are some suggestions to get you started (and remember, you can Follow without Friending). These links take you to Facebook. But they also have websites and Twitter accounts: Desiree Adaway, Alexis P. Morgan, Ericka Hines, Leesa Renee Hall, Staci Jordan Shelton and the woman who inspired this post, and through her writing continually encourages me to keep working with my discomfort, Layla Saad.