The bar for white “allies” is absurdly low and I’m tired of watching them be praised for reaching it
Black people don’t owe anything to white people... Not praise. Not space on our platforms. Not invitations to our functions. Nothing.
by Tynesha M. McCullers
Ellen Pompeo talked about representation in film and television in a recent interview with Porter magazine, expressing the ways she recognizes her whiteness and uses it to be an “ally” to actors of color, particularly women of color. I watched a clip of the interview and felt nothing. Unmoved, if you will. Then, actress Natasha Rothwell tweeted that Ellen Pompeo could “bring the greens to thanksgiving.”
My eyes rolled to the back of my head before I could even catch them. Premature praise and credit being given to white “allies” is nothing new. Witnessing it has become old and quite exhausting. White people showing any ounce of human decency or empathy is apparently something to be celebrated.
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I spend most of my Black ass time and energy giving a fuck about things and people every day without applause, celebration, or credit. So, I admit that I struggle watching my people hand out accolades to white people for giving a fuck, or at least saying they do, about us and our livelihoods. I wonder what the world would look like if we didn’t praise white people for caring about us, and instead consistently held them to this expectation.
Racism is a white people problem that should be solved by white people. Meaning white people who “get it” shouldn’t be praised and invited into our spaces simply for telling us they “get it.” There are “allies” out here now proudly claiming the title because they “got it” a decade ago when Obama was elected and have done nothing to annihilate oppression or discrimination since they “got it”.
In the fight for racial justice, I’m not looking for “allies”, I’m expecting accomplices. That’s where the difference lies for me and why I quote the term “ally” and all variations of it. “Allies” perform “allyship” for the title, the clout, the praise, and the cookout invitations. They’re crying “but my intent” when you’re trying to tell them about the impact they’ve had on you. They write articles or books about reckoning with their whiteness and take speaking engagements from Black people whose life work is racial justice.
And don’t even think about holding “allies” accountable for their actions. They’ll just resist the feedback and list all of the great things they’ve done as an “ally” for Black people. Their “allyship” is self-serving and an attempt for them to separate themselves from those white people and their whiteness—as if being an “ally” means that they don’t still have racist tendencies or act on those tendencies.
When it comes to social advocacy, Black people don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing what matters, or even narrowing our focus to issues that specifically impact us. It is a social expectation and demand that we work on everything, advocate for everyone constantly, and fight for social change on all levels at all times. Non-Black people regularly gaslight us and treat us as though wanting something, anything, specifically for ourselves is unacceptable.
White people have a double standard as it applies to empathy. They want us to “seek first to understand and then be understood”, while they would rather only be understood, not understanding of others. White people will wait to hear all the “facts” to determine if an unarmed Black person being shot by police is justifiable, but they’ll immediately expect us to sympathize with white kids who had their school shot up by a “loner” white terrorist, and when we ask for the same when something goes down in our community, we’re blamed for “Black on Black crime”. They want us to be sad, angry, hurt, and/or depressed for only a moment, if even that long, and then forgive and move on when our community experiences white terrorism. White people want our caring to have no limitations when it’s about other people. We can’t get tired of it either. Because if Black people stopped caring, almost nothing would get done.
It amazes me how this world could have such high expectations of me and my people, but call us selfish or ungrateful when we expect someone to care about us and advocate for us, without doing it for the praise, accolades, and titles. This is why white people keep getting invited to our cookout, at least in part.
RELATED: Why I’ll never thank white “allies”
To be very clear: Black people don’t owe anything to white people working towards or talking about dismantling anti-Blackness, discrimination, racism, and oppression. Not praise. Not space on our platforms. Not invitations to our functions. Nothing.
For too long, we have been held to an unfair standard of giving a fuck and fighting for others. Black people are expected to do the work, caring about everyone else before ourselves, and even when we do, rarely are we commended for it. In fact, we are mostly vilified for saying the things that Ellen Pompeo said.
In all the times I’ve stood up for non-Black people of color or white people with other marginalized identities—too many to count—no one has invited me to join them in first class on a flight, to a fancy party on their yacht, or for a weekend at Martha’s Vineyard. And when I’ve stood up for my own people, what I’ve gotten is criticized, disrespected, harassed. Some have even been killed for this work.
I’m tired of giving a fuck knowing good and damn well that most non-Black people couldn’t care less about me and mine. And yet, I still care. I still fight. I still hold people accountable. I do it because I expect it from others, especially white people with platforms, privilege, and power. I believe it should always be expected and demanded from those who have the power to help change it.
Tynesha is a strong-willed higher education professional in the DMV with a passion for social justice. Born and raised in North Carolina, Tynesha is true to southern roots. Tynesha has a B.S. in Human Development and a Master of Education. Tynesha’s interests include watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, singing, painting, traveling, and writing.