Centering white allies in our movements shifts them from being unapologetically pro-Black to becoming about what white people need to cope with their guilt.
By Gloria Oladipo
“Defeating White supremacy without White people creates Black supremacy. Equality is the truth. Like it or not, we are all in this together.”
This is what Terry Crews—our favorite coon—recently tweeted in an attempt to convince us of the need to center white people in defeating white supremacy. He went on to express his fears of an impending Black supremacy: “If you are a child of God, you are my brother and sister. I have family of every race, creed and ideology. We must ensure #blacklivesmatter doesn’t morph into #blacklivesbetter.” Similarly, YouTube videos like Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man or Let’s Talk about RACE and how to be an Ally, center white people’s action as the key to freedom.
This movement began with Black death—the murders of George Floyd, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the thousands of Black deaths before them. When we march, we are shouting their names, furious and heartbroken that they aren’t with us today, that their killers walk among us. White people may come and join us, but they are not the center of attention. They are in our world, in our space, marching with us as we grieve and rage. But of course, white people and Black people who shuck and jive continue to ask white allies what they need, what we can do to help them. They have transformed this radical moment into a self-help book for white people.
White people have always been obsessed with themselves. They shove their white guilt into our DM’s, pumping us for answers. They co-opt our gestures of solidarity and freedom at our protests. White people continually steal space, content, and demand answers from us during one of the most devastating, liberating times of our lives. It is exhausting to continually watch Black people accommodate and encourage white people’s curiosity. They make the idea of Black liberation complicated, acting as if demands for white people to stop killing us are difficult.
Accommodating white people and white curiosity has several consequences for the movement. Firstly, continually engaging with white people makes the movement about them. The movement shifts from being unapologetically pro-Black to a movement about what white people need to cope with their guilt. In Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho runs a White Privilege 101 course, going through educational basics like why the n-word is harmful for white people to say, why calling the cops on Black people is dangerous. Instead of creating a video to uplift Black protestors, Acho wastes his time, with cheesy, sad music in the background, explaining fundamentals that white people already know but refuse to acknowledge as truth.
Secondly, centering the movement on white people forces Black people to continually publish their trauma in an attempt to remind white people our lives actually matter. In “want to be educated? This video for you…#blacklivesmatter,” Jada Jones goes into the trauma she has experienced as a light-skinned Black person. She uses her platform to question looters that apparently make the “rest of us look bad.” Versus holding solidarity with other Black people, she emotionally delves into how she googled “how to be white” as a child. Who does that serve? How is laying out the desire to be white productive? It celebrates white people’s imagined supremacy and also can trigger other Black people who have had similar experiences. Similarly, in Acho’s video, he graphically describes the death of Ahmaud Arbery as a teaching tool for white allies. In the same episode, Acho uses Emmett Till’s death (and how his murderer recanted her story in 2017) as an example of white privilege—a misuse of the term. There is no trigger warning, no content warning, no caution for Black trauma. Black people, especially those who are murdered, are not for white consumption. They should be revered, not used as a teaching tool.
Centering white people in our movement means negotiating the terms of Black life with white people. Instead of committing to unlimited Black liberation, Black people are making promises to white people that white life matters too (as if it hasn’t always mattered), that they will one day be included in our movement. Acho embarrassingly sits down with Matthew McConaughey, describing how all lives will one day matter if Black lives matter. Acho is making promises to white allies to get them comfortable with a water-downed form of equality. But white people do not want all Black lives to matter. A world where Black people matter is a world where white people have to directly challenge and topple systems of oppression that benefit them. So, white people will always choose Black people who are willing to leave the rest of us behind.
Centering white people in our movement also means making the violence we experience more palatable to them. In Acho’s conversation with McConaughey, Acho says that “the greatest white [cruelty] played out by white people is backhanded compliments.” Similarly, Jones describes having to paint her shoes and tights brown for ballet as a large trauma in her life. While those are obvious racist aggressions, they shouldn’t be at the top of anyone’s agenda. Black trans women are being murdered every day. Law enforcement gets paid to terrorize Black communities. Flint, MI doesn’t have clean water. The number of tragedies that have been mapped onto the Black community is limitless. Why should our attention be focused on insults that stand in the way of Black people assimilating into white culture?
These liberal, centrist people all call for the same thing: for white people to educate themselves. There is never a demand for white people to open up their purse, to defund police forces. These liberals never demand prison abolition or free education and healthcare. All they want, the only thing they ask for is for white people to educate themselves (and for Black people to use parasitic legal systems through voting). Calls for white people to educate themselves always assume white people don’t know any better. White people know how not to kill us. White people know how not to call the police on us and they damn well know how not to say the n-word. There is already an encyclopedia of books, videos, and quotes from Black leaders—with a spectrum of identities—directing white people’s action. Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Frank Wilderon, Ida B. Wells, Toni Morrison, Huey Newton, Marsha P. Johnson, and many other Black elders already exist; they have already given us a sea of words to correct our footsteps going forward. The imprint of Black liberals attempting to put themselves in that canon makes me sick.
It is much easier for Black liberals and centrists to concern themselves with the surface of white supremacy. Systems such as anti-Blackness, capitalism, homophobia, transphobia, and others benefit them as well; they have no intention of rocking the boat they are on. Truthfully, we don’t need white allies to end anti-Blackness. Black people have been doing this work for centuries, long before white people noticed our rage. However, for those participating in coonery buffoonery, it is much easier to focus on white people than it is to interrogate the systems interlaced with anti-Blackness that also benefit them. Acho is a “respectable”, attractive Black man who is affable enough to interact with his white fan base. Jones is a pretty, light-skinned girl who benefits from white supremacist definitions of beauty. They would much rather coddle white folks than lose the gains they also get through anti-Blackness.
White people systematically aren’t my friends. They aren’t my peers. They are not the solution because I know they will never choose me. White people co-opt. White people stamp out the revolutionary future with their liberal boots. We need a movement completely dedicated to Black life, to Black people. Not a movement willing to negotiate and pamper white guilt. I want a movement that has nothing to do with white people. I want a movement where we don’t make compromises for white fear, white guilt, or white emotions. I want a movement just for us by us. I want a movement that fights for me and my people.
Gloria Oladipo is a Black woman who is a sophomore at Cornell University and a permanent resident of Chicago, IL. She enjoys reading and writing on all things race, gender, mental health, and more. Follow her on Instagram at @glorels.
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