Acknowledging and Maintaining Our White Allies
By Hasira Ashemu
It was a beautiful Atlanta morning. We had stopped off in mid-town to grab a Sunday Bloody Mary from one of the many chic restaurants in the area. It was clearly a gay restaurant and when I say gay – I mean boldly unashamedly gay, and in the south that’s a rarity. The reason why this is of any significance will make sense in the coming paragraphs, so just put a pin in it at this point.
Any who, as we sipped our drinks and chatted about our spirited host, who was rocking cut-off jeans that would have made Beyoncé blush, I spotted a young white man walk into the restaurant with what I assumed was his partner. I immediately became transfixed on his t-shirt, thinking that either I was misreading it or perhaps he himself wasn’t quite sure of the meaning of the phrase that he was proudly sporting across his chest or even worse, perhaps he was making a mockery of the term – #blacklivesmatter.
Either way, I was determined to get to the bottom of exactly why he was wearing this t-shirt. Lucky for me, this young man sat directly across from my table and I was able to easily lean over and make my query as to why a fairly young gay white male was rocking a t-shirt that was surely gaining him plenty of attention, wanted and unwanted from both Blacks and whites alike. My confusion about this spectacle is clearly understandable. I mean this white man has the world at his feet. He is the quintessential American trifecta…young, white and male – Boom! Like the commercial, “who could ask for anything more?” #blacklivesmatter
So I leaned over and said, “Excuse me.” He didn’t hear me the first time or perhaps he wasn’t sure why a 6’4 Black man with this mustard Pirates cap turned backward (shot out to Chuck D) was trying to catch his attention especially since he was obviously partnered. Leaning a little bit closer and raising my hand to make sure he could see I was calling him, I said again a little bit louder, “Excuse Me.” He then turned to me – “yes?” “Hi, I was just wondering why you are wearing that t-shirt.” Now, let me say this: one of the things I love about our openly gay brethren, especially those who live south of the Mason-Dixon Line, is that they are f-ing unapologetic about who they are.
Right?!?! I mean you just have to know that these homosexual warriors have endured more than their fair share of that Bible belt bullshit. They’ve already been condemned to eternal hell fire by those as close to them as their parents or siblings and scorned openly by the judgmental southern eyes that burn hotter than a Mississippi heat wave. Anyway, I digress. #blacklivesmatter
In response to my question, this guy didn’t even have to glance down at his chest to remember what shirt he had decided to don that day. He knew damn well what he was rocking and walked around as if to say, “I dare you to ask me about it, I dare you to stare at it and better still I don’t give a flying funk what you think about it – deal with it!” Looking me straight in the eye without blinking or trying to read my face for approval of what many would call his “cultural appropriation” of a movement slogan, he declared the strongest and most profound three words that I had heard uttered out of a white mouth in a very long time: “I’m pissed too!” #blacklivesmatter
And at that moment, my love and appreciation for this kindred soul grew as well as my admiration for his courage to wear his politics and openly declare his solidarity. #blacklivesmatter
We spent the next 30 minutes discussing everything from Ferguson to income inequality, to white privilege and apathy to Black awakenings and the power of our youth. We all agreed that there was indeed a natural mystic blowing in the air and nothing could stop it. #blacklivesmatter
After speaking with our newfound friends, I knew that I would have to write about it. This personal experience of mine holds an important lesson for all of us in the movement and that lesson is this: Those of us that are marching towards freedom and justice for all human beings in this society must recognize and keep firmly in our mind the essential and critical role that our white allies play and have always played in our justice movements. #blacklivesmatter
Of course, the reactionary, repressive and divisive forces along with their media mouthpieces would love for us to buy into the paradigm that police brutality, income inequality, and social justice are unmistakably Black vs. white issues. They would love for us to adhere to the rhetoric of scarcity that pronounces that ‘in order for one to win the other must lose.’ They would love for this young man to believe that as a white male he has been discharged with certain inalienable rights that he must defend from the colored hoards who are seeking vengeance for the past 500 years of racial abuse at the hands of his kinsmen. These intransigent forces would be ecstatic if I were to adopt the paradigm that informs me that he’s nothing but a privileged cracker menace that walks these fruited plains of America with the blood of my ancestors stained with each step. However, for either one of us to adopt these views we would have to conveniently ignore the history of Black/brown justice movements in this country. We would be suffering from historical amnesia if we were to forget who fought along side us, paid heavy prices and sometimes sacrificed their lives. #blacklivesmatter
The abolition movement, the civil rights movement and even the Black power movement all were conducted with the strong influence and assistance of white allies. From the John Browns to the Jane Fonda’s we have a historical formula for our movement’s success and we cannot allow the divisive and reactionary elements that pervade corporate media to inform us differently. No, we can ill-afford to fall for the ole racial okie-doke. #blacklivesmatter
Conversely, our solidarity cannot be a paternalistic one either. The fight for racial equality must be spearheaded by those who are most informed and intimately aware of the injury, the pain and reality of what it means to be a person of color in America. #blacklivesmatter
It only takes a cursory glance at the racial makeup of the marches conducted by the Occupy movement, the Ferguson’s, the Baltimore’s to see that our white allies are with us and willing to lay it on the line for a better and more just society. Have you noticed how mainstream media conveniently ignores this truth whenever they cover the various disruptions that are taking place around the country? The corporate media and politicians dare not expose the race wizard behind the curtain who is frantically pulling at the racial levers in an attempt to hypnotize the American populace. #blacklivesmatter
It is up to us to rebel against and rewrite the narrative of ‘us vs. them’ to be inclusive of our white allies. They must know that their time and energy is welcomed, encouraged and indeed necessary although they wear the skin of privilege. Indeed, it because they have this privilege that their sacrifice is truly a great one. #blacklivesmatter
The Abolitionist, the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, to the Occupy Movement to #blacklivesmatter are all proof to anyone who reads history without the lens of bigotry that whites have always been a key and critical factor in Black and brown freedom movements. This of course is not the narrative that you will hear recounted and surely not promoted by the corporate media and the average American classroom. #blacklivesmatter
Therefore, let us continue to work together in solidarity for the betterment of our communities, our nation, and our world. Let us hold firm and celebrate the necessary diversity of our movement with the understanding that together and only together we will win! #blacklivesmatter
Editor’s note: Hasira Ashemu is a prolific writer, speaker, progressive social activist, and communications professional with more than 20 years of experience as an award-winning columnist and radio/television journalist. Hasira also lived in Ghana, West Africa for more than 10 years working in the non-profit and governmental sectors as a communication specialist. Currently, Hasira is the producer of two-online publications and a syndicated TV show by the same name Soul Progressive on Free Speech TV. He attended East High School and Howard University Alum. Follow Hasira Soul: Website: www.soulprogressive.com; Twitter: @SoulWatson; Facebook: Soul Progressive