Happy Monday, friends! Recently, my friend and pastor, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, was preaching on race, racism, and the responsibilities of allies. To a mix of head nods, amens, and laughter—most of it nervous—Jacqui looked at our congregation and said, “Nice white people…just because your pastor’s Black does not mean you’ve done your work.” It isn’t easy being an ally. In fact, from the moment we claim to be an ally—and we’ve all claimed to be some type of ally—we’re already doing it wrong. Though the temptation is great, we cannot claim allyship. Allyship must be bestowed on us by a person and then we are and remain only an ally to that person and anyone else who has called us an ally.
We need to divorce ourselves of the error that we could ever be an ally to an entire community. I may be the best ally to you, but I may be the worst ally to someone who identifies like you. While we are identified as allies by certain people (perhaps even in certain contexts), we will always be aspiring allies to whole communities. I often refer to myself as an “aspiring anti-racist ally.” Why? Because as a white person, particularly as a white man, I could never understand racism in the same way as a person of color. I may be called an ally by individual people of color, but the best I can do is aspire and try to do better each day.
The New York City subway system and London’s Tube have popularized the saying “mind the gap;” that is watch out for the space between the train and the platform. If you’ve ever taken the connector between Grand Central Station and Times Square, you know that gap is enough to swallow most large adults never mind children and pets. Allies also must mind the gap between their activism, experience, and knowledge and the activism, experience, and knowledge of the group they aspire to support. The marginalized community must be the one to lead its own activism and their experience must be trusted. Unfortunately, even well-meaning allies sometimes have the urge to seize the activism and the movement, creating spaces where a marginalized community might be welcomed, but are not centered. Not for nothing, these allies are often called white saviors.
Perhaps the most difficult dynamic of being an ally is when allies are also marginalized. That’s not to say that it’s easy to be an ally and a temporarily-abled-bodied, white, cisgender, rich man, far from it, but to be white and Queer, Black and straight, AAPI and a man, or any other combination of identities is to constantly moderate between places of privilege and places of marginalization. These intersections can be as complicated to navigate as the intersections of our own identities.
Aspiring to be an ally isn’t easy and it isn’t supposed to be. We each have work to do which goes beyond how our friends, pastors, colleagues, and family members identify and how many diverse spaces in which we place ourselves.
To whom do you aspire to be an ally? How can you be a better ally in your day-to-day life?
Let us pray: God, you are an ally to each of us. You support us even when we might not feel that support. You support us even when the world seems hopeless. Help us be of support to each other. Help us use our privilege to speak up and act out with others. Help us make good trouble. Amen.
Blessing on your weeks, my friends! Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.