It’s been a few months since our collective attention was focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. However, just because the immediacy of it has receded, momentum on this critical issue is no less important.
One thing that became apparent to me over the summer is the importance of thought and consideration on how and when race is discussed.
Too many times over the years I’ve found myself almost ambushed into a conversation about race, with a white person, who with good intentions tells me a story about racial injustice largely it seems, to make me aware of their anti-racism standpoint – even if they didn’t speak up at the time the actual incident occurred.
While I commend the sentiment, it is by and large lip service and also a sure fire way to ruin my day. Ultimately, they’re just telling me a story about racism. News just in. I’m aware of it.
This dynamic became all too apparent at a party a while back.
One of the guests, a little worse for wear, decided that very moment was when he wanted to discuss his pro-BLM stance. Despite my resistance, reminding him, we’re at a party and it was perhaps not the time, he was insistent, even at one point blocking my exit with an arm thrust across the doorway, forcing me to listen. Meanwhile, other guests awkwardly squeezed past him. Finally after a few strong but polite words, he allowed me to pass and let the matter drop. After, what disturbed me was not his attitude or even aggression. No, what disturbed me was that none of the other guests came to my assistance. They had all buried themselves in their conversations and left me to deal with him myself. One even jokingly said later that they didn’t feel the need to step in as I could clearly handle myself. Ah the strong, black woman trope – a stereotype that allows people to believe we can deal with anything when the truth is, as in this instance, we’re just used to being left to it.
If white friends and colleagues really want to be allies then this means tackling difficult conversations about race but not necessarily with black people. It’s time to speak up to white friends, family and colleagues, in the moment, after the fact, in person, on the phone, however it has to happen but it’s time to go beyond performative support because true allyship doesn’t come from talking about what a great ally you are but by actually being one.