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The Whole Point of Being an Ally

June 5th, 2020

Centering whiteness often means using white normative standards as the “neutral default” that you project onto the rest of the world. 

During my tenure as a law student, a classmate, let's call him "James", attempted to engage me in a discussion about Bruce Springsteen. When I revealed that I had no idea who that was, incredulity oozed out of every pore in James' body. “It’s like you’ve walked down the same street for years & I’m trying to draw your attention to the old red house on the corner that you walked by everyday.” he said, "and now you're telling me that you never saw the house." I replied, "What I’m telling you is that for people like me, and for people from my neighborhood, we don’t even know that street you’re walking down exists.”

ProtestersProtesters on June 4, 2020 | Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pixels

I remember seeing something in his face visibly shift. Like he had not realized, before that moment, that the world he was describing might have other streets in it. Streets that different people walk down that never intersect with that metaphorical red house on the corner.

If you are opposed to police reform or defunding because your life experience has led you to believe that most officers are good or because you know good people who are officers, then I know that what many of us have been saying over the last few weeks is hard to hear. I also know that what we’re asking you to do is even harder.

We’re asking that you de-center those experiences. We’re asking that you refrain from using those officers that you know as the archetype for officers everywhere. We’re asking that you trust the experiences of Black and brown communities and reject a system that you believe to be helpful and necessary for your safety so that we can create a better one for all of us.

If I were in a room full of white people, and asked the question “how many of you think most cops are good at their job?” It is my full expectation that a majority of people would raise their hand. If I followed up with the question “how many of you think police are helpful to everyone?” It is my full expectation that a majority of people would raise their hand. If I concluded with the question “how many of you want to keep at least as many cops as we have now on the streets?” It is my full expectation that a majority of people would raise their hand.

But what if I told you that, in a room full of Black people, those answers are likely to be the exact opposite. Do you trust their experiences and stories? Are their sentiments about police as valid as your own? And are you willing to stand with us in rejecting a system because it doesn’t work for everyone even if it works for you? Because that’s what being a true ally means: casting away a system that you believe is necessary and good for you because it doesn’t work for everyone with a commitment to creating a better system that works for us all.

That’s the point of all of this. That’s the entire point of allyship.