To the Uncertain Ally, Signed, the Fatigued
November 22, 2021
By Shanieka Jones-Firek, Clery Director
The context of racial and social justice and its relevance changes throughout history, as evident in eras such as the Civil Rights Movements, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Crime Victims’ Movement, the LGBTQIA+ community’s fight for marriage equality and nondiscrimination rights, and Black Lives Matter. Constant among these struggles for equality were the dominant people’s exclusionary prejudices and the tenacity of the brave who put their bodies and minds at the forefront of tumultuous battles.
Paramount to producing the envisaged changes of select movements and other historical advancements is the involvement and influence of Black women, from Harriet Tubman and Mary McLeod Bethune to Shirley Chisholm, Stacey Abrams, and countless others. While powerful and distinguished, these women’s accomplishments highlight an issue that, in turn, perpetuates the persistence of inequity in America. The burden of equality rests on the backs of those who are fighting to be seen, heard, and valued. They lead, galvanize, and face discrimination while having to educate with patience and dignity. They do this while allies sit near but in silence, express their abhorrence in closed circles, or march only when an act is deemed so detestable that the privileged no longer argue that swift action is warranted. This form of allyship has become antiquated for those who do diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work consistently and unapologetically. Strengthened intercultural justice “warriorism” beyond advocacy from a personal sense of civic responsibility is necessary to advancing racial and social justice.
Since living on the Monterey peninsula, I have encountered many ostracizing situations. I have been rumored to be the second Black woman to work at a police department in its 20-year history. I have been part of a workplace where criminal incidents disaffirmed Black beauty, and subsequent responses were received as disingenuous to our belonging and well-being despite our dedication to that workplace. I have worked with a community association where my views were questioned because my social, economic, and cultural background differed from my counterparts. I have heard allegations of disparate treatment towards BIPOC individuals from people in positions of authority and listened to stories of microinvalidation. I have sat in my home and watched horrified news of recent events where high school officials were said to have made disparaging remarks, and Black teens felt threatened by Black-face antics committed by their classmates. While faced with these discouraging experiences, perhaps most discomforting is the reality that my dedication to sacrifice my labor at the expense of my well-being is not energy equally matched by people from privileged identities who share and benefit from the same space. With a particular focus on DEI, I often sit at tables where the same courageous few are dialoguing transparently, challenging themselves and others, and providing grace to grow. The perceived disinterest and trivialization from the majority call into question the values of colleagues and counterparts who share in DEI policy development, other initiatives, or who otherwise serve in positions that directly impact communities. I find myself wondering about the realism of accomplishing change while bracing myself to hear justifications for why the change I seek is challenging to effect, thanks to systemic blockages.
The exhaustion from racial battle fatigue that I feel remains a daunting overcast in addition to the everyday humanistic struggles relatable to people everywhere. After my lived-through experiences amid environments that discount my community’s brilliance, here is what I have come to know:
- Advancing racial and social justice demands willingness, commitment, dedication, bravery, and amenable participation from a struggle’s privileged group.
- It is not enough for allies to advocate. It is not enough for allies to provide emotional support, and sitting at the table without engaging is unacceptable.
- Space mindfulness is critical to inclusion and equity work. However, racial equity movements require that white-identifying persons encourage passionate testimonies of the BIPOC experience and recommendations for change, followed by their vocalized support and leadership toward implementation strategies and tactics.
- We need brave warriors who take up mantles in spaces where their privilege grants them access. We need folks who directly challenge the pejorative meaning of the phrase “warrior” and accomplices to impede systemic racism, colonization, and white supremacy.
I hope that allies who are uncertain of their position will read this and gain clarity. I understand your position and how doubtful it may be to know when to sit, listen, or act. Nevertheless, I say to you that your fears cannot outweigh the struggle. Your uncertainty cannot be greater than the risk we take. Your hesitancy must be broken, and your fragility must end. We need honesty about your social self-view. We need you to cross lines of difference and sow competency until the systems of oppression are whittled away by attacking the root.
To the uncertain ally, let me be clear: We need you to be a practicing anti-racist until we live in a post-racial society.