The word ally has been thrown around the last few weeks. And I wanted to clarify a few things about the idea.
An ally, according to Merriam Webster, is one that is associated with another as a helper: a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle.
But what does this mean when we add the word white, as in white ally?
Loosely speaking, a white ally is someone who stands with Black people and our quest for equality and equity. However, I still want to go a little deeper.
Here’s what I’ve observed from decades of interacting with different types of white people in predominantly white spaces.
White allies speak up when something is “wrong.” Remember when I wrote about the girl who ordered a Jimmy John’s sandwich while I was teaching? Well, when I told the program coordinator about it, she called the student into her office and reprimanded her. This made space for the student to apologize and for me to handle it in a very upfront and authentic manner with the entire class. That same colleague also stood by and with me as we resolved the situation of the other student who’d failed. White allies do not shrink when faced with adversity that can be deemed wrong or read as racist.
White allies educate themselves about racism and then act accordingly. Many of the white people I personally know are either in academia or in academic situations. Consequently, my colleagues don’t ask me to recommend information; their reading lists are already extensive. These allies not only read, but they also apply information. During the first week of protests, a co-editor of a book I’m in process of publishing reached out to me and asked if she or the others could lighten my load. She recognized the trauma of watching a Black person murdered on video and offered a supportive solution.
White allies use specific language. Words matter. As I scroll through all of my socials, I can tell who is with me in the fight for dismantling systemic oppression and who is not. #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter are hashtags that symbolize a lack of understanding of Black issues and create separation of the larger issue. Churches and organizations that sponsor events to feed the police, while never mentioning how they can or have supported Black families who have lost lives due to police shootings send clear messages. Instead, allies share useful resources. Allies don’t say, “but what about…” Allies use #BlackLivesMatter with confidence and as a way to decenter themselves.
White allies are aligned even when there is no headline. At the risk of sounding cliché, many of my good friends are white. One of my friends is a woman who, during our teen years, lived less than eight blocks from me surrounded by Black people. She recently campaigned for Beto O’Rourke and has been a champion for social justice issues all her adult life. I have a Facebook friend who I’ve known since first grade; he is constantly raising issues about the injustices that Black people face in his California community. Another friend is a woman I met during my first job in academia. She has spent much of her 30+ career teaching Black children in culturally diverse ways and modeling how to do that for other educators. A fourth person is a white woman who has collaborated with others to diversify Oklahoma’s curriculum to include lessons on the Tulsa race massacre. White allies use their voices at all times because they realize systemic racism is a persistent part of American life.
Finally, for those of you who are still subscribed to this blog and sometimes comment with mutual understanding or add your new perspective of a social justice lens, I appreciate it. That’s my 5th example. White allies seek first to understand, not to advance their pre-established privileged perspective.
What else would you add to this list?
I also want to note that I have friends who are not allies and I know allies who are not friends; the terms are not synonymous.
Please be sure to read my Black History article on the PBS blog.
When you think of the civil rights movement, what cities come to mind? Mobile? Birmingham? Atlanta? some place, Mississippi? How about Jacksonville, Florida? Probably not, but this southern city and its leaders were just as influential as Selma.
I found this out four years ago, when I posted this photo to my blog.
A fellow blogger noticed the background and sent it to her friend, Rodney L. Hurst Sr. Mr. Hurst contacted me about purchasing a copy and explained the meaning of the sign behind the gentlemen’s heads.
I was excited to hear about this little-known Black history fact and asked Mr. Hurst to a breakfast interview to understand more.
KG: Can you describe a little bit about what Ax Handle Saturday was and what happened?
RH: I was…
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It costs $7.00 to go to one of the Memphis shelters.
If you ever plan to submit your work for publication or a contest, then you should also plan to submit a cover letter. My journalists friends initially suggested a cover letter only include two quick sentences with the title of the work, word count, and brief summary. I’ve found a letter like that was fine, until I began submitting for longer projects, like book chapters. Sometimes, those editors and publishers want in-depth descriptions, and they usually provide guidelines if that’s the case.
That’s what happened when I recently submitted to win a grant for Black women writers. Although I didn’t win, I was one of the Top 10 Finalists. Consequently, two of my manuscripts will be published with their journal as soon as this Friday.
I’ll share that publication once it’s published. In the meantime, here’s the cover letter I wrote.
Life as a Black Woman
I learned the importance of my blackness when I moved from Detroit, Michigan to Jacksonville, Florida. It seemed the Duval County school board hadn’t fully integrated. Consequently, the job fair I’d attended in 1997 held a surprise. On one table, there sat a white paper with the words: Vacancy Black English Teacher. After an awkward conversation about my recent graduation from a teacher education program, the white, male principal offered me a position.
That was the first time my blackness preceded my qualifications.
I learned the intricate nature of being a woman during my six-year, doctoral program. Single, childless professors rarely took me seriously once they found out I was married with two young daughters. Similar to microagressions based on race, I could never put my finger on one discreet moment. It was more intuitive. More subtle. But somehow proving I could mother, wife, teach, and learn seemed to become an integral part of attaining the prestigious degree.
That was the first time my intellect was challenged based on the social construction of gender.
I learned what it meant to be a Black woman in academia when I applied for a permanent, tenure-track position at a research university. I submitted my application two separate times. I didn’t receive an interview. The third application was for a one-year, clinical position, teaching only. The institution hired me with a simple Skype conversation.
My new colleague was the person they’d hired in the English Education position I’d sought. He was a white man. His terminal degree was not in English Education; mine is. At the time of hire, he had one scholarly publication; I had three. He had five years of K-12 experience; I had ten. He had no years in higher education; I had two.
That was the first time race and gender intersected to create a sense of dual oppression.
To say that being a Black woman is a double-edged sword is cliché. But it must be said. It’s getting a job because I’m Black and not getting a job because I’m not white and male. It’s reading and teaching about white privilege and male privilege, nodding in agreement with textbook theories, but then having both thrown in your face by the very institutions that preach those concepts.
It’s ironic, really.
I’ve learned what it means to be a Black woman by attempting to participate in one of America’s most hopeful institutions. By attaining the highest degree possible and asking for a seat at the education table, I’ve learned that racism and sexism still exist, both as independent forms of discrimination and as collaborative acts of subjugation.
However, I have chosen to be a Black woman who uses her voice as an act of change. Neither my pen, nor my opinion can be taken from me, no matter my race or gender.
Have you ever had to contemplate your race or gender and their impact on your place in society? What’s your experience writing a cover letter?
Q1: Is Dwight Desi’s father?
No one has ever asked me this question. I suspect because it’s rude. However, people have asked Desi. She’s a few shades darker than Dwight, Kesi, or me. And I guess this causes confusion. They’ve asked this her entire life. She’s 15. If it was just her peers, then I probably wouldn’t be upset. But it’s not. The people who typically inquire are…adults. Yes. Adults ask her all the time.
“You two must have different fathers?” a hairstylist once asked.
“You must be Dr. Garland’s daughter?” a colleague once asked Kesi.
To which Desi replied, “We’re both her daughter.”
Her friend’s mom asked, “He’s not your dad, right?”
Desi said that it doesn’t bother her. I halfway believe her. She is her father’s child; they both let things roll off their backs. But I do not. Sometimes my ego still drives the bus, and this is one topic that gets me going. If anyone ever asks, I have ready answers.
Have you ever heard of recessive genes?
You do know African Americans come in all shades, right? Sometimes those colors are reflected in the same family.
Your question doesn’t even make sense. You do realize this is my youngest daughter, right?
Q2: How do you get your hair like that?
This happens all the time. The most recent being a month or so ago. It’s usually a black woman, who follows up with, “I can’t get my hair to do that.” But this time a black, male cashier asked.
“How do you get your hair like that?”
“It grows like this.”
(snickers) “That’s what they all say!”
“Yes, but this time, it’s true.”
I went on to explain that I use products to hold my curl pattern, but when I wash my hair, it looks like this. Curly. When I wake up in the morning, it looks like this. Spiraled.
I’m not sure why people don’t always believe me. Is it because so many women wear weaves? Did you know they sell natural looking weaves and wigs? I had no idea. I digress. Here’s my point. If you have the wherewithal to ask someone how they get their hair to look like it does, then be accepting of the answer you’re given. Implying that a woman is lying is just offensive.
Q3: Are you mixed?
I identify as black. I was adopted and raised by a black family. Culturally, I’m black. It is common knowledge that in America one drop of blood means you’re black, still.
So, I usually answer, “Yes. But I’m black.”
That’s my reply because it’s too long to offer the following transparency.
My biological grandparents are both half Cherokee. I know what you’re thinking. We all are. But, according to my grandfather, his and his wife’s mother were full-blood Native American. That part is evident in my cheekbones.
As far as my parents, I suppose it hurts too much to say, “I don’t know,” because I don’t.
When I met my biological aunt, she told me that my mother pointed out my father. He was indeed a “lanky, white man.” However, I haven’t gotten around to finding him and proving it. Until I do, I’d prefer that people just don’t ask.
It’s a great time to be African American. Just check your television listings. It’s like this:
I mean really. We have a well-rounded array of representation:
How to Get Away with Murder
The Get Down
A friend of mine called it a “renaissance of black culture.” I agreed. It sounds nice. Poetic. Artsy. A “renaissance of black culture” makes me feel good, until the next unarmed black man is gunned down by police. I can laugh at the upper-middle class woes of the Johnsons, until the next #BlackLivesMatter call to action. I’m considering buying a bullet-hole hoodie like the Luke Cage characters. The satire hasn’t escaped me. I watch Annalise, her students and her clients get away with murder, just like the police in my country. I admire how Duvernay wove BMike’s art and his message about police brutality in the last Queen Sugar episode. And even though I loathe Empire, I’m glad there are actors who look like us on television to serve as entertainment, until someone chokes, shoots or hangs another person who looks like me in real life.
Yep. It’s a great time to be African American, as long as you’re on television.