Allyship & Race

After the horrific death of George Floyd led to world-wide Black Lives Matter protests, I spent last week muted on social media, pausing “business as usual” and focusing instead on listening, learning, reading, watching, and amplifying the voices of Black people.

As part of the muting challenge, I also muted all the white people whose social justice and body liberation work I normally follow, so that the vast majority of my content came from Black creators, educators, and voices.

That part of the challenge was a bit embarrassing and eye-opening, as it brought my attention to the fact that a huge chunk of the social justice education and critique I normally consume comes from white women, even when it’s about racism and racial justice.

This is something my privilege and internal biases had allowed me not to notice or think about before, and reflected insight about who I turn to for information as much as it did the biased Instagram algorithm– a fact which I discovered after muting hundreds of white folks, when my feed was suddenly full of Black folks who I didn’t even remember following.

I spent the week learning more about police violence, the history of the police force, and how city budgets that disproportionately favor the police get made. I paid the Black folks whose work I follow for educating me, donated to support the bail funds for the protesters and the #blacklivesmatter movement, went to a peaceful protest in Los Angeles, explored my own internalized racism on a new level, and signed up for an eight week course with the brilliant Dr. Tee Williams on the foundations for social justice.

I also spent a lot of time examining my role as both a white person and a “public figure” in the body liberation world, and exploring the subtle directional changes I want to make in order to stay more aligned with my anti-oppression values.

Photo Credit: cnn.com

I know a cultural shift has taken place, and the need for anti-racism work has landed more deeply among my white readers, clients, friends, and peers than ever before. I also know a lot of you are looking around right now asking what we should do, feeling helpless and confused, and paralyzed by the fear of messing up.

I don’t have answers, but there really is no way to do this without messing up, so there is always a degree of pushback and critique we should expect when speaking up.

Black folks aren’t a monolith and they don’t all agree on how white allyship should look. Some Black women I follow say my job is to sit down and shut up and that by attempting to educate other white folks about racism, I’m stealing from Black women. Some Black women I follow say that if I’m not attempting to educate other white folks about racism, I’m part of the problem and not doing my job.

I get why white women feel paralyzed right now. They want to do things right, and they’re terrified to enter conflict or “get in trouble.” At some point, I’ll be speaking about how perfectionism and whiteness are linked, but for now please just know that if this is your experience right now, you’re not alone, but you’re also not off the hook.

Liberation for everyone requires that we white women be less fragile. We will all need to learn how to mess up, do things “wrong,” upset people, take critique, and keep going even when it’s scary and hard. This is true if your goal is body neutrality and a strong sense of self-worth, and it’s true if your goal is being a better ally to people of color.

So, yes you will mess this up.

One thing I know for sure is that my job as a white ally is to get educated, think critically for myself, and be brave enough to take actions I think are right– while also building my capacity for critique and feedback. I’ve been educating myself for years, more so now than ever, but I’m committed to thinking more critically about how to be an ally “out loud” and take more action now than I ever have.

Which means I will now be messing up more than I ever have. Luckily, I’ve been building my capacity to do that too.

To that end, if you are a Black, Indigenous, or other person of color reading this and want to let me know something I’ve done wrong or something you think I can do better (and you have the bandwidth/energy to do so), I welcome your feedback with an open heart and mind.

As of right now, I believe my job as an ally for racial justice is to donate money and time, put my body on the line at protests to de-escalate tension aimed at people of color, shop Black businesses and boycott businesses whose values don’t align with #blacklivesmatter, do my re-education and self-inquiry work so that I’m less harmful on a daily basis, gather my fellow white folks to do the same, and get the fuck out of the way so that Black folks, especially Black women, trans, and non-binary folks, can lead right now.

That last part is the tricky bit.

After all, as a white person, I’ve been conditioned to see myself as the hero of the story. In a spectacular (and mortifying) display of white saviorism, my ego tells me that I’m special and different from other white folks, and that I ought to be rewarded for my efforts to fight for people of color.

Yes this is incredibly fucked up and uncomfortable to admit, but it’s also extremely common.

Ever since I was a kid, I believed I was meant to lead, and that fighting for justice and liberation would earn me status, belonging, gratitude, and “cookies.” (Wanting cookies is something they say in the social justice world to indicate someone who wants credit and validation for doing the right thing.)

Like most white people, I learned to define being “good enough” as being special or better than everyone else (way more on that later), and I learned to center myself and my feelings in any experience. These are themes I will be exploring over the next weeks and months, but for now I just want to reflect on how my role as an ally for racial justice should not earn me cookies, and may not be to lead at all. It may be instead to step aside and let Black folks lead, and just make sure they’re safe while they do it.

This is a strange thing to contend with as a white person. I never imagined the most heroic things I could do in this war for justice would be to donate money, amplify Black voices, and sit down. I’m still sorting through what this means as a person running a business, and as a body image coach.

The truth is that if I get my allyship right, I should actually be losing money, losing business, losing status, losing visibility, and losing privilege. It’s a weird thing to grapple with.

I run a coaching business based on women breaking free from body image issues. It’s an industry which is overrun by thin pretty white women who look a lot like me, and which should probably be run by fat Black trans disabled women.

I’m still not sure what exactly my move is here.

What I do know is that I will continue to be transparent as I move through this and make directional changes to my business and allyship, and I will continue to be more outspoken about the fact that Black Lives Matter, and that there is no #bodyneutrality work without #antioppression and #bodyliberation work– even if you’re a thin pretty white woman.

I will also be encouraging my white readers to educate yourselves on the history of racism, how we’ve all been conditioned into white supremacy, and how we are all a part of the problem.

There is a lot to learn, and yes it’s ok to spend some time just learning, listening, and doing the necessary self-examination. But at some point you’ll also need to think critically, take action, be brave, and take action.

This is not a trend.
This is a revolution.

Sending love, strength, and resilience,

<3
Jessi

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