Why I’ll never thank white “allies”
It’s clear that a sustainable movement for progress requires a larger mass of folks invested in liberatory work than currently exists. Often, this insight coincides with appeals to allies in hopes that they will take greater part in this vision. Believing their role necessary in building a formidable coalition, we encourage allies by showering them with our gratitude, oftentimes for actions as minor as posting about reading a New York Times bestseller. We go out of our way to make “ally cookies” the sweetest they possibly can be, sometimes even materializing in the form of monetary rewards, to the point that the overwhelming appreciation becomes an incentive in and of itself.
Most white people are doing this work for gratitude. This is why so many respond to not being centered and rewarded by giving up on participating in anti-racism work altogether.
In “White People Have No Place In Black Liberation”, Kevin Rigby Jr. and I argued “white people should move comfortably in neither Black spaces nor white spaces. Even those who are well-meaning should drive themselves into the ground trying to figure out how to occupy a positive whiteness—because it is impossible.” In the comments, Elijah Tchaplinski sums up the responses of most of the white people in retorting, “If I take this article to heart, I might as well be racist myself.”
If refusing to promise a smooth and rewarding journey is all it takes for an ally to choose racism instead, it should be seriously considered whether or not their fickle presence could ever truly be depended upon in the first place. Working toward freedom will never be an endeavor that allows those who retain material benefits in keeping the status quo in place to move comfortably. Thanks are the very least of things that white people should expect to lose if we are to get free, and it’s way past time we stop promising anything less.
I learned long ago that lending energy on pleas made to those who harm me is a bargain with my blood for a good that could never replace how much has been and is being lost.
I became much less concerned about incentivizing those whose allyship is conditioned upon gratitude once I began investing in encouraging those of us so battered by the system that we have no more gratitude to give. As Arielle Newton argues in “There can be no unity with an anti-Black Left”: “Protecting the energy of radical Black organizers should always be priority. Placating the spinelessness of an opportunistic, disloyal sector of the social justice Left will certainly lead to failure.” A larger mass movement could also use the participation of those who have given up the niceties of thanking white people for harming them a little less. If we have to make room for one group or the other, which one should we choose?
My concern is that many Black people, at least those with platforms, still refuse to believe anything other than gratitude can be traded for freedom, and so they always choose allies over their most radical factions. I know this because every Black loss is justifiably followed by Black rage, and all Black rage is predictably contained and redirected by Black people with platforms who seem more afraid of losing white support than losing Black lives. “What Would You Have [insert white woman] Do?” Is the far too common response to legitimate Black rage and cynicism, as if all Black people must desire white people to do at least something or they might as well not be on the same planet. The prevailing narrative being that a solidarity with those who are sad and sincere and willing to do nothing about it is more important than a solidarity with those who are enraged and cornered and willing to do everything.
In challenging this message, it is important not to be ashamed to proclaim my lack of gratitude for anything white people do concerning my Blackness. I am not grateful for, following Malcolm, the hand that eases the knife into my back a little slower, rather than taking itself off the hilt entirely, to speak of pulling it out.
I am not grateful for the public displays of guilt, which, as John Murillo III notes, do nothing to change material conditions but then force the cameras into my face and demand I make every story of my undeserved losses center upon their beautiful sincerities, lest I seem too bitter, too Black. I am not grateful for shows of support conditioned upon my gratefulness, or support pre-requiring my thanks–which is always Black labor, too, as Aman Gabe points out, and we have labored here too long.
Black people, you don’t have to be grateful for anything white people do regarding your Blackness, either. You don’t have to be grateful for their money. Their apologies. Their acknowledgments. Their praise. You deserve all of it, and far, far more. If you are not willing to contort your mind, body, and spirit to settle for anything less, you are not wrong, and don’t let anyone fool you: you are not alone.