No Time for White Guilt: Why I'm Skeptical of White Allies

by Jaimee A. Swift

During a recent diversity training, the discussion about race and racism emerged and the question was posed to the group about allyship in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“How can I join?” “What can I do?” “When and where can I participate?”

I sat there silent, in this group, and listened to the other Black people, give general answers and reassuring epithets about being a part of the movement.

“Of course, you can participate!” “There is always room for you to join.” “Just make sure you speak up and speak out!”

By the time the mic came to me, I was extremely exhausted by the semantics and instead of encouraging words of inclusion, my response was this:

“Since the unfortunate and heinous massacre of nine innocent Black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, I am unsure whether, you, as a white person, will be embraced with open arms and ears right now in the movement.”

Now, maybe, I was being a little impish or annoyed or a combination of both, but the incessant questioning about allyship was extremely bothersome to me. You see, I am very skeptical about allyship and whether, Black people, necessarily need or want allies in the neo Black-liberation movement. I am concerned that once aligned with the cause, they will attempt to claim ownership; as historically and even contemporarily whites have appropriated cultural and social aesthetics that inherently were not their own.

Just as exhibited in the recent MTV documentary, White People, I wonder if prior to the movement, whether they have thoroughly addressed race and racism or failed to reflect on these salient issues as a means to conceal their white comfortability and white privilege. I am concerned that they see the Black Lives Matter movement as a trend and I question their previous efforts in advocating for the parity of African Americans. I question whether or not they are willing to confront the notions of their white privilege and the privilege, stereotypes and prejudices that their families, friends, and even colleagues may hold against Black people. I question whether they are doing this for a righteous cause or as a way of appeasing their white guilt.

I am skeptical that this so-called “obligation” to recognize white inclusivity serves as an invasionary mechanism for the continued marginalization of the Black voice and Black people in a Black-led movement.

These aforementioned thoughts and concerns, however, are not calls for the denial of whites to the movement. Nor are my concerns a sound board for negative epithets or hostilities. Nor am I denying that there are whites who are truly enlightened to the struggles of Black people or their work in the movement.

However, all in all, just like the acronym of the hip-hop apparel company FUBU, the Black Lives Matter movement is “for us, by us.” The movement is for our struggle, for our pain, for the injustice, for the triumphs, the perseverance, the resiliency, and equality. Although allyship is important, the ally must constantly recognize and understand that Black people control the context, content and the fluidity of the movement — because it is by us and about us.


Photo: Shutterstock

Jaimee Swift is a graduate of Howard University and Temple University, with a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, respectively. A writer and truth-seeker at heart, Swift is currently the Communications and Youth Advocacy Officer for Together for Girls, which is a Clinton Global Initiative to end sexual violence against women and girls. You can follow her on Twitter @jaimeeswift.

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