“Allies,” the Time For Your Silence Has Expired

A vintage photo of Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC, from their website.
A vintage photo of Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC, from their website.

As we reel from the horrific news out of Charleston, SC, in which nine people were killed and others wounded after a gunman opened fire during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, the details we’re gathering in the aftermath all suggest that this was a hate crime. According to eye-witnesses, the shooter was lobbing accusations and generalizations about Black people and declared that what he was about to do (i.e. kill innocent worshipers) was necessary.

And Black people remain numb.

I wish I could help non-Black folks understand what it’s like to be inundated with stories and experiences like this. It scars the psyche. You go from anger and indignation to depression and dejection and back and forth and back again until you’re inevitably numb. When news of Kalief Browder’s suicide broke, many of my White friends expressed their anger about it and the system that facilitated it. I told them they could be angry all they wanted. As for me, I’m exhausted.

I remember when the news out of Ferguson, MO first came to us. I heard White friends and colleagues encourage each other to sit in a posture of listening. I honor that listening. I honor the desire to be in solidarity through understanding. I honor that they wanted to avoid any semblance of saviorism.

White allies, I thank you for your thoughtfulness in this regard. Now allow me to be your stopwatch; Time’s up.

A colleague of mine summed it up perfectly on Facebook today:


At this point, I’m not interested in your listening. I think the danger in this listening posture is, while it seems like the mindful and conscientious thing to do, it can also be far too convenient. It’s a great way of doing nothing. For the sake of finding the right action, you take no action instead. We have had the benefit of years — centuries, literally — of thought, narrative, scholarship, literature, film, fiction, non-fiction, and discussion to help us all understand these issues. We’re the most connected and information-overloaded that human beings have ever been. We can transmit entire books to our hand-held devices. Class has been in session. The school bell as now rung.

Many of you have been on it for some time now, working in solidarity with people of color. You have been in the trenches from the beginning (or your beginning). I don’t discount you, but I also caution you to not be self-congratulatory. You’ve left some folks behind, folks who call themselves “allies.”

I have a love-hate relationship with that word, ally. I find too often it’s a self-appellation, and one that is often unearned. We should apply the same rule to it as we do to nicknames. You can’t give yourself a nickname; other people give it to you. To give it to yourself comes off as pretentious. It’s the same with self-proclaimed “allies.” I know you mean well, but what about your life demonstrates that you walk in solidarity with others who experience life differently from you because of their skin color, legal status, or sexual orientation? Please don’t call yourself my ally if your uncle’s racist jokes go unchecked in your presence. Please don’t call yourself my ally if you say something insensitive, I call you on it, and all you can do is brush it off and say, “Girl, but you know I love my Black people!” Don’t do it.

I love my colleague Laura Cheifetz’ vineyard laborer analogy on Ecclesio today. Whether you got in the game early or late, it’s important to simply get in the game at all. But, if I may use an idiom that we often say in reference to the product of the vine, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” Some of us are long overdue for our break, while others have yet to clock in.

Your shift is upon you. Kindly report to work.

99 Replies to ““Allies,” the Time For Your Silence Has Expired”

  1. This is my struggle. I want to do something, I try to do things, but in my small rural place (there are 97 black people in the county according to 2010 census). I feel like I’m shouting into a hurricane. I get brushed off as the “liberal” in town.

    I, too, am uncomfortable with the term ally, or at least calling myself one, because I don’t feel like I do enough. That’s what led me to that workshop at NEXT last year. In a place, where racism is embedded and inextricably tied to classism I too am tired.

    I’m going to pray and see if we can find another way.

    1. Greg, I hear you. I imagine Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and countless other prophetic voices had similar feelings. But from what you’re saying, you seem to be doing what you should. Be cognizant of your ability/privilege to unplug from these things. Understand how seductive that is and reject it because you know that some of us cannot unplug. God strengthen you in your search and work for justice!

      1. That unplugging is my hardest thing. I know that is part of my privilege and unplugging from these types of conversations is difficult for me, mentally, I get more and more frustrated with those around me who can’t see what I see so clearly. It makes me tired and sometimes it makes it harder for me to be an ally. I don’t want to be that clanging cymbal.

        I appreciate having voices like yours in my life (timeline) that help me stay awake and engaged.

        Thanks for your words.

        1. Please read Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk, Ph.D., she also has a workshop available for free online! Keep reaching out to those who are awake!

        2. You can cultivate compassion and a godly sense of justice in your congregation and community by showing the humanity of our Black brothers and sisters. This will help your white neighbors recognize their prejudices, both conscious and unconscious. It’s okay to seem like a clanging cymbal when the message you’re preaching is that of reconciliation. It’s the ministry God has given us. Godspeed.

  2. Amen. Freakin’ amen. Ally is an earned name…yes. And yes, time is already too short and, and, and….action too little. Thank you for your words.

  3. So confusing how you could consider this abhorrent act to be part of a system of injustice against which we should stand.

    This crime looks to have the makings of a sociopath. All the indications are is that this person was mentally ill.

    I haven’t heard anyone in America do anything but grieve over this story.

    Seems trying to motivate racial change as a result of an act grounded in mental illness is misguided at best. Maybe use this as a call to increase support of the mentally ill.

    1. We tend to assume anyone who commits such a heinous act has to be mentally ill. I would disagree with this; sometimes people are just evil and full of hate. From what I have read so far, this young man appears to be a white supremacist who made a deliberate decision to take out this specific group of people. He walked into a church that is known to be home to one of the oldest A.M.E. congregations in the country, so he knew the group would be predominantly Black, and allegedly said “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” He may prove to be mentally ill, but the fact still remains that his hatred was aimed at Black people. And we have to ask ourselves why such extreme racism still exists and what we can do to fight it. And then we have to actually do something about it.

      1. The status of this person’s mental health has little to do with how he was conditioned to think and feel – he learned to hate black people because that’s what racism does: it tells us who has value and who doesn’t. Any potential emotional and mental instability he has may have contributed to the choice to act on that hate, but the hatred and the devaluing of black people is absolutely systemic racism. No question about that.

    2. Your reasoning is a perfect example of white privilege. This poor young man must be mentally ill. If the situation were reversed, a young man of color sitting in on a prayer meeting at a white church, would you say the same? Or would you call him a thug? The problem is not simply the shooter; it’s a culture that privileges white experience to such an obscene degree that you are sorry for someone who can rightly be called an assassin.

      1. Anyone who can walk into a place of worship and kill innocent people, regardless of color, is possessed by some spirit that is evil. Today we label these things as mental illness.

        1. I don’t know how you can persist in denying there is racism at work here. Again, situation reversed, would you say the same? Would the gunman have been taken alive to jail? I doubt it. After killing nine people, a white shooter still retains his privilege, regardless of his mental health status.

          1. I absolutely would say the same if a lone person of any race entered a house of worship and started killing people in prayer. The only way I can make sense of such a crime against humanity is believe that mental illness is at the heart of the matter. It may be racially motivated, but at this point, I think most any psychiatrist would label this lone individual as a sociopath. More details will come out, and then people will be able to preach from their soapboxes about what lays at the center of this person’s motivation. But the details I’ve read lean more heavily to the conclusion of mental illness being the primary factor.

            And for the record, please do not assume you know what race I am because you don’t. Also, please do not assume you know what privileges I have in this life.

          2. “Reader,” I can’t seem to reply directly to you, so I hope you will see this. The intellectual stance you are taking is influenced by white privilege, as is our nation’s culture. Since you are hiding behind anonymity, I know nothing else beyond the assumptions you express. White privilege is not about your bank account, your job or your wardrobe. It is about the underlying assumption in our culture that privileges white people, their reality, their stories and their experiences.

          3. The gunman, regardless of race, would have likely been taken in to custody for questioning. Not all confrontations with police end in a black man dead. Most of these mass murder situations (committed by white men) end with suicide anyway. Nobody is denying the obvious racism but instead pointing out the lengths this obviously racist person went to are the likely result of mental health issues. Even racists websites like Stormfront are condemning this act of terrorism. Most racism is based in ignorance and subconscious learning of stereotypes based on what is portrayed in various forms of media, not in hate. Mental illness does not excuse his actions, simply gives reason. Millions of Americans each day live relatively normal lives without clinging to conspiracies and unhealthy obsessions and without committing acts of atrocities against other people. POCs are making this conversation completely black and white. Blackness does not remove all privilege and whiteness is not a cure all for any kind of struggle. We really need to stop acting like whiteness is the only privilege that exists and acknowledge that privilege, like race, comes in varying degrees and forms and every person’s experience is unique instead of just shouting about privilege at every white person that asks a question or acting like any confusion or disagreement is a sign that they are denying the that systemic racism exists or that they are not aware of their privilege.

          4. “Again, situation reversed, would you say the same? Would the gunman have been taken alive to jail? I doubt it. ”

            The situation actually has been reversed. Look up the Beltway Sniper Attacks. Black kid murdered 16 people and was taken peacefully to jail:

      2. Mental illness doesn’t have a color. The DC sniper, the guy that shot up the navy yatd in Washington, the kid who shot the school up in CT, the Colombine Kids, this guy.

        This horrible act isn’t proof that racism is still alive, it’s proof that racist people are alive. Hate to break it you, but there will always be racism and violence. If all the white people vanished tmrw, a “new” racism will come to the forefront. Humans are the problem. If we can’t see that the media is fanning the flame, that’s the problem. I he author

    3. To call this anything other than a racist hate crime is utterly delusional. He plotted it out. He was an active and purposeful white supremacist who murdered nine innocent because they were black. He said this out loud as he was firing his weapon.

      Was he also mentally ill? Maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less of a hate crime. If anything, it is a further indictment of the racist culture that brought this killer into existence. It is racist, white supremacist culture that enabled his illness to take such a hideous shape, and it’s white supremacist culture that says race was some kind of insignificant factor.

    4. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter that it’s “grounded in mental illness.” Mental illness is rampant and it latches on to things. What did his mental illness latch onto?


      It *had* to be there for him to plug into it. Writing it off as “just mental illness” is wrong. And it is misguided. I assume that, like me, you are white. Maybe you feel like you can’t quite relate, but you should try. Because every time we perpetuate racism by not calling it what it is and not acknowledging that, yes, this country has a race problem, we are making it worse.

      Yes, your comment is making it worse. You think you’re just writing words on a screen, but you’re adding to that atmosphere of apathy that allows stuff like this to happen.

      This TERRORIST went into a church and declared that he had to kill these people because they were BLACK. That’s racism. It’s terrorism. When those terrorists in France went into the the offices of Charlie Hebdo and shot those cartoonists, we didn’t blame it on “mental illness.” We called it what it was: terrorism. Terrorism perpetuated by extremists.

      This is terrorism perpetuated by an extremist. But that underlying hatred and racism has to be there for him to take it to its extreme end. I urge you to stop blaming this solely on mental illness. Instead, understand that this terrorist’s mental illness fed into the racism and hatred that was already there. And that racism and hatred manipulated any mental illness he may have had.

      But there’s the thing: racism and hatred aren’t abnormal. They’re not something that hides away in a mental institution somewhere. They’re everywhere. They’re in that stupid joke your co-worker tells ONLY you because of your white skin. And what do you do? You either laugh along or, you do like I’ve done, you walk away because you’re uncomfortable.

      It took me years to build up the courage to say something because I get shaky when I confront people. But that’s what we have to do. You have to do it and I have to do it. Otherwise, we’re adding to that atmosphere. And it’s little drops that add to a bigger pool and one day, someone real sinister, like this terrorist, is going to find that big pool on his journey in life and he’s going to sink his feet in.

      Stop making excuses for terrorists. People are DEAD. And when people are dead, you don’t make excuses. You face up to the facts because there’s blood on your hands if you don’t.

      1. Wow, there seems to be a lot of projection and judgment in your post.

        I am not in the position to make such sweeping statements about race and society. Some people think they are, I guess. And again, I have no idea why it’s assumed I’m white. I feel a certain few here are projecting their own prejudices and past racism onto me. If I said I was Native American, would you speak to me in a different tone? If I said I was a black person, how would you respond to me? But you’ve assumed I’m white. You’ve assumed I’m an aggressor. You’ve assumed I’m a defender of white supremacy. And you’ve judged me as being guilty of this killing as well, what with blood on my hands. It seems hate rules in your heart.

        From the details coming out about the alleged killer, he fits the profile of paranoid schizophrenic. Why he latched on to killing and focused on hatred of black people in recent weeks is unknown, but I am not sure it’s accurate to make a rash judgment and claim it is a white supremacist society that pushed him over the edge.

        1. “I am not in the position to make such sweeping statements about race and society. Some people think they are, I guess. And again, I have no idea why it’s assumed I’m white. I feel a certain few here are projecting their own prejudices and past racism onto me. If I said I was Native American, would you speak to me in a different tone? If I said I was a black person, how would you respond to me? But you’ve assumed I’m white. You’ve assumed I’m an aggressor. You’ve assumed I’m a defender of white supremacy. ”

          Well, please feel free to correct me. You didn’t, but if you feel you should, please go forward.

        2. Reader, it is not what “race” you are but what you are defending and standing for here – denial of systemic racism. Martha Spong has talked to that clearly above. Nobody assumes you are a defender of white supremacy, you *are* defending white supremacy in your own statements, whatever race you may be. Those who have engaged with you have done so in direct response to the views you are expressing here.

          1. I can’t reply to Reader’s comment directly, but I’m replying to this:

            “I am not white, but I do not see why that matters.”

            And the author of this blog, along with others who are speaking out, feel that the racial overtones of this crime do matter. Apparently, it mattered to the racist terrorist what the color of the victims skin was. So the thing to stop doing now is to stop diverting the conversation away from their concerns and making it about your own.

      2. Well. Said.
        I get shaky too, but WE MUST be courageous in our everyday conversations. Words matter. The power of life and death are in the tongue…

    5. Regardless of whether the shooter had a mental illness or not, he is responsible for his actions. The stigma behind mental illness is a real thing and it’s important to raise awareness about that, but the bigger issue right now is how our society is dismissing this man’s actions because he might have a mental illness.

      1. Many of us have mental illnesses – depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia etc – but it doesn’t make us racists. Mental illnesses don’t cause people to become white supremacists. Or murderers. Or violent. Experiencing mental illness certainly turn us into racists. Let’s not find excuses for racism. #BlackLivesMatter

    6. Sean Dennison

      Sean Dennison said it best: C’mon mainstream media, say the words “white supremacy.” Say the word “terrorism.” Say the words “history of racialized hatred.” Say the words “raised to be a white supremacist.” Say the words, “product of a history and culture of colonialism, racism, and hate.” Say anything EXCEPT “mentally ill.” Because those words do two terrible things: They increase the stigma for those who already suffer enough with mental illness, and they erase the systemic forces that taught a young man to kill Black people.

      1. Agreed!
        Calling it mental illness minimizes things, like it was out of his control. To me, it sounded like hatefulness, pure and simple. Is every hateful person mentally ill? (well, maybe…..)
        Yes, our country has a mental illness problem (why? WHY????). But we really have a HATE problem. People are hateful and amazingly willing to do things to others that are unkind, hurtful, or devastating, with no remorse. That goes beyond mental illness, it goes beyond guns, it even goes beyond race. Where does the HATE come from?

        It makes me sick to my stomach.

    7. I have such an issue with the way mental illness is discussed in these contexts. “Mental illness” may have biological/genetic/chemical features, but it get’s played out in societal context. To frame this another way, people in modern america have different hallucinations, delusions and paranoias than people in, say, a 12th century feudal society in Europe. White supremacy/racism is on feature of modern american society, and thus it shows up in heightened form when some people become emotionally/mentally disturbed.

      So, the white supremacy vs. mental illness debate is a *false dichotomy*. I agree that anyone who does something so heinous and violent and tragic is pretty much inherently “not in their right mind” and has probably been neglected by family/mental health services/etc. But, the content of *how* mentally ill people *behave* plays out differently in different contexts. If he wasn’t raised in and indoctrinated by a white supremacist society, this young disturbed man would not have acted out in this way, by murdering black people. So, it’s very much about racism.

      Mental health and racism are both social issues, not just individual issues. Either way, the responsibility lies with those in power (largely us white people) to A) shut down white supremacy and B) support everyone’s mental health.

    8. First off: Mentally ill people are more often the victims of crimes than they commit crimes. So do not slander mentally ill people by connecting their pain and suffering with this person who:

      – Spent months planning his crime and explained his motive to his roommate, that he wanted to start a new civil war
      – Chose the date to converge with the history of when Denmark Vesey, a founder of that specific church, planned to start his rebellion against slavery
      – Made sure that at least one of his targets, a State Senator, would be there and purposefully sat nearest to him
      – Sat down for an hour among his victims and pretended to be in fellowship with them before he preyed upon them
      – Wrapped himself in notably obscure symbols of racism (Rhodesian and apartheid flags) as well as the mainstream, supposedly “respectable” ones (Confederate flag)
      – Explained his rationale to his victims, which was related to a centuries old myth of white woman victimhood at the hands of black men,
      – Before making sure to leave someone alive so that HIS STORY COULD BE TOLD.

      That is not ILLNESS. That is hate. That is malice aforethought.

    9. Reader, why is it that white men get a pass as “mentally ill” when black men are “thugs?” Some are thugs after they’ve been murdered by police when they are innocent or engaged in misdemeanors. And it’s not just the victims who are thugs, it’s their family, they culture, and the those protesting for justice. All thugs, while Roof, the White Supremacist and mass murder is just mentally ill. Ill or not, his targets had nothing to do with racism? He lived an hour a way, he picked that church.

      To say that this is about mental illness and not racism is to live in terrible denial.

    10. It’s interesting that when we see the ump-teenth act of murder directed at Black people in America it’s always blamed on a single individual’s mental illness. The mental illness exists in our society. As was pointed out in the aftermath of what happened in Charleston, the city where the civil war began and where slavery was so firmly defended, the streets are named after Confederate soldiers who are held up as heroes. The Confederate flag flies at the state capitol and is defended by the state’s governor. This is a sickness of our society, not one single “sociopath.” And unless he hand sewed those patches on the now infamous photo of him, a BUSINESS manufactured and sold those racist flags that he put on his clothing. A business that I assume does not survive by having one, lone customer.

      We do need to support the mentally ill, but that will not in any way stop an act of terrorism such as we saw on Wednesday.

      A white ally who is trying to be a better ally

    11. I agree. If this crime could have been prevented, it would have been through better identification and management of unstable people like this. I don’t see that this has much to do with Mike Brown, Eric Garner, or other social justice issues.

      You call again and again for action, but what should we do? Stand guard outside of black churches with shotguns, incase insane race obsessed killers should try to gain entry? Doesn’t seem like a prudent course of action. Please suggest one, mass killings like this are truly awful and I would like to help prevent them.

    12. I disagree with the idea that a crime this horrific can only be due toe mental illness. By your logic the whole country of Germany was at one point in time mentally ill. They weren’t. They were hateful. Big difference.

      1. ^^Exactly! Listen “Reader”, would you label the lynchings by the kkk, or a house set on fire by an individual member, a neo-nazi beating a person of color to death, or dare I say an isis member cutting someone’s head off on video with a hunting knife as merely mental illness? THIS IS HATE, plain and simple, and it needs to be stopped. Why downplay this fact with useless comments? Sorry to be harsh, but wake up! Otherwise you are part of the problem.

  4. Like Greg, I would love some more concrete suggestions to help with navigating the action piece of this.
    When the Covenant Network decided to devote our time and effort to race and church and culture, we were very intentional about not wanting to swoop in as the white people with the answers. Our desire to walk alongside and listen is both a confession that has not always happened in the past as it could have, and also a recognition that we (broadly speaking as allies) are not the ones to set this agenda.

    So I apologize if listening sounds like an excuse to not do something (and I’m sure that is the case in some situations). For us, listening is the beginning. We want to do more. Would love to be in conversation with you about this. I will send you a fb message with my contact info.

    Thank you for this post. Look forward to the conversation.

    Marci Glass
    co-moderator of the Board of the Covenant Network

    1. Marci, I think I could have probably been clearer that there is a time, place, and reason for listening. But I also worry that people get too comfortable in that posture. Concrete actions are largely determined by one’s own context. What are you able to do? What are the immediate needs that you can address? What are the systemic issues to which you can devote time and resources? I often find that we’re never as helpless as we think we are. It’s just going to take some imagination on our part. We will definitely speak offline, and I’m looking forward to it, too!

    2. You do not have to act within or upon the Black community – the systems that perpetuate racism are grounded in white society, laws, culture. We can act to dismantle those structures without tip-toeing around being afraid we’re in the wrong place and going to say or do the wrong thing. We must do our anti-racism work in our own white communities. Like Greg says, resistence is so great in our rural communities, it’s hard to know where to begin. But my mother, a social justice Catholic, always said we do what we are called to do in the place where we find ourselves.

  5. In Youth First we work with African American middle school and high school kids from Watts and other parts of S Central Los Angeles.
    If you enjoy youth, get to know these kids by working with us or another group. Find out the challenges they face daily . They have educated me and continue to do so. Once you know the issues up close and personal, you can never be the same. Their stories need to be heard by all of us

  6. Every day I post something or try to discuss something about the injustices here in America, primarliy the injustice shown the Black/African American citizens. I know we can’t fix hate with hate but these murderers all seem to live, and all seem to be white. There is no explanation as to why these crazy mass murderers get to live when innocent people get killed for just being themselves. And so the hate deepens and we become even more divided; Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American… Caucasian. This came on the news last night, late, right as I was going to bed. Every time I see this kind of news I am always sickened and last night was no exception. I stayed awake and thought about all the repercussions that will follow. Those of us that aren’t racist need to, more than ever, stand up for what is right & true & try to forget our skin color. We have got to become allies not enemies. Peace

    1. Nicely put Sherry. Consider this:
      The confederate flag was at full staff while the American flag was at half staff in the State Capital of South Carolina. Priceless. No South Carolina Mayor, Governor, or politician should have the right to morn the six that died if they favor the continuous display of a flag soaked in the blood of African slaves and African Americans for over 300 years. Save your tears. They are not worth the tissue you wipe them with.

  7. I (a white suburban mom) have been trying to figure out what to do (besides educate myself) since Feb. In a discussion on another blog, someone suggested that I join my local NAACP chapter. I feel foolish for not having thought of it, but I really didn’t, and I’m grateful for the suggestion!! Other places I was looking were SURJ (but there is no chapter in my town) and local black or integrated churches. (I felt shy about waltzing in there and asking what I could do to help, since I hear people talking about the fatigue of having to educate us.)

  8. I often wonder that as we are listening if we must also confess that we participate in an abusive system that values some over others – consciously and subconsciously. We have to be willing to cry “Foul” and “Guilty” in the same breath. It is a humbling and scary calling to dare to hold others accountable to God’s all-encompassing love in Jesus Christ while also confessing to the ways in which one falls short and needs to be educated. However, I think the times in which we live demand that we are change-agents even as we need to be changed. My hope and prayer as a Southern, white clergy woman in process is that I can get out of the way enough for the Spirit to move in, through, and in spite of me for the gospel message and challenge to be heard!

  9. I love everything you said and I agree. However, let me share this perspective and I hope you can give some advice because I’m frustrated as hell. This contradicts some of the messages we have gotten from others. We are getting conflicting messages. From one corner of non-whites like yours, we are called to speak up and take action, and honestly that is what I prefer to do and I have lived my life calling out racists for their bullshit any chance I get. I don’t laugh at the jokes, I’ve debated, argued, shamed, demonstrated politically (Marched, etc.), signed petitions, made donations, tried to educate while also continuing to educate myself, (also did the listening thing), boycotted, etc. YET….from another corner of non-whites, we are told to sit down, shut up, and listen. That it’s not our place to speak. It’s not our place to act because then we get accused of “white knighting”. There are many places online where I can’t even participate in a discussion because I’m white. I’ve been told by both whites and non-whites that I should be silent and not ask questions because that’s considered “talking over a black person”. I had the blessing of growing up in a diverse community so interacting with people of all a races is actually quite familiar to me. Yes I have more friends of color than I can count and they think the people telling me to be silent are full of crap, but I keep hearing it and seeing it written online … then I read this and I’m like “Ok…great… I’m with you…but what about all the black people telling us to sit down and shut up?” Mind you, I realize that in many cases they are not LITERALLY saying that, but that’s what we are hearing. That’s the message being sent. So I’m telling you that if someone like me is afraid to speak and act due to this repeated message being beaten over our heads, I’m sure that’s part of the reason so many potential allies are cowering and being silent. They are simply afraid and don’t know what to do. If they speak up and act, they will not only catch hell from the white racists (but so what fuck those guys I say), they will catch hell from blacks and other minorities who will get mad at them and be accused of white knighting, speaking out of place, talking over others, talking in place of others, benefitting from marginlized groups, trying to get attention, etc., etc…. and on and on. Over the last couple of years, the accusations I have read and heard that have been directed at potential allies has been a bit overwhelming and I while it has not changed my anti-racist stance, I actually understand why it has chased allies away or made them silent. I have witnessed first hand, potential allies get metaphorically beaten down (not just race allies but feminist allies and feminism/gender / LGBTQ allies as well) and chased away from the movements. We have lost entire armies because allies have found themselves between a rock and a hard place and simply get lost OR beaten up and they simply give up. I’m not insinuating that allies should be treated with kid gloves, but really… would you be someone’s ally if everything you asked a question or tried to help them, you got punched in the face? Eventually the person is going to say “fuck it”. It’s human nature. I’m not saying ‘fuck it’ myself….. fuck that… I have enough good multi-racial people in my life, both friends and family, that I will continue to do battle whenever and wherever I can with what limited resources and abilities I have, but I’m sad, frustrated, and angry to all the hate and violence happening and at all the LOST OPPORTUNITIES to bring white folks to the sided of right. I’ve literally watched them sitting on the fence and as they reach over, they get their hands slapped and I don’t know how to fix it…because…well, I’m white too and if I dare to suggest to any black person that maybe they might try finding a new way to engage with potential allies, I too will be slapped. So we are confused … are we to speak up or not? Sit down and shut up or stand up and fight? Which do you want us to do because I’m hearing both messages and I’m stuck.

      1. What do I WANT to do or what do I think I’m ALLOWED to do? Two different questions. I WANT to find some white supremacists and punch them in the face for creating this shit storm we are in, honestly. That’s how I feel about it. What CAN I do? Don’t know. What am I ALLOWED to do? I don’t know that either. You tell me. How do I speak up and act out without being accused of white knighting or taking space?

        1. Oh no! I wrote a long, eloquent post and then the page reloaded and I lost it.

          Hi Karen,
          In my opinion the answer is easier than you think: work with white people. It’s always best to start organizing in your own community, and it radiates out from there. It is the hearts and minds of white people that must change. There are roles in the dismantling of white supremacy that only white people can play, talking to our fellow white people is one of them. In my opinion, it is there that we can best be leaders.

          And I echo the suggestions others have left of using social media or finding groups that want the kind of support you can give.

          For other ideas, SURJ is hosting a national conference call for white people at 8pm EDT tonight. http://myaccount.maestroconference.com/conference/register/80Y9U3OJ1UN28CK

          We must continue to engage. I know this is meaningful to you and trust that you will keep working for a more just, equitable future for us all even when it’s difficult.

          I am buoyed by this quote about slavery from abolitionist Theodore Parker: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

    1. hi karen, I sympathize with your frustration. here are some things I’ve found helpful in thinking about when/how to act and when/how to listen. I’m talking as much to myself as you when I write these — so, this is not some better-than-thou-pep-talk.

      -People of color are not a monolith. No reason to get angry at one person of color for having a different opinion than the last person of color you talked to…everyone’s different and you can never please everyone. Find the folks who want the kind of help you have to offer. Listen to/hear out *all* people and act alongside those who want your help. You won’t have a place everywhere, but you can find a place to help somewhere.
      -Life, including activism, is about balance. We must balance action and reflection (shout out to Paulo Friere). There is no easy answer… but make sure to do some listening and some acting. It’s not all or nothing, it’s not black and white, it’s complicated, and we all just try our best.
      -This is not about me/you. Don’t use your insecurity as an excuse not to act — that’s a cop out. This one is huge for me, as a shy, indecisive person. We all make mistakes, but that’s not an excuse to give up. Just, listen with an open mind and adjust behavior accordingly. This isn’t about me, so no reason for my fear or insecurity to stop me from helping in tangible ways, being in the street, taking risks, etc.
      -Find a way to deal with resentment. If you are getting resentful of the frustration of being an imperfect ally, don’t bottle it up… find someone (probably a white person/man/straight person) to talk about it with (before it comes pouring out in a post like this?). If you want to help, bottled up resentment will probably get in the way. And, clearly you DO want to help. So, find a way to process the stuff.

      Hope I don’t sound to preachy. I do think I get where you are coming from and I do think that it’s essential for us to deal with these issues if we want to help fight racism, sexism, etc.

      1. oops, didn’t mean to imply you were a man by saying you might talk to men about sexism. ! just threw “man” in as part of the litany without thinking!

    2. Most of my black friends don’t mind when I ask genuine questions. And most of the time, I’ve heard the “shut up and listen” bit when white people inject their own needs and stuff into the conversation. For instance, Laverne Cox shared an update today that ended with the hashtag #blacklivesmatters. Several white people came on and made a big deal about how it should be #alllivesmatter while paying lip service to “but all racism is bad.” Typically that’s what I see people railing against. Or when people say, “but look at allllll I do” and point to all the good they think they’ve done for the black community. Nobody cares. You don’t get rewards for being decent.

      The easiest way for me to look at it is from a feminist perspective. I know how irritating it is when a man says something like, “but men have misandry leveled against them” when I post something about a woman being targeted because of her gender. It makes me angry and in those cases, I’m likely to tell them to shut up and listen. Because in those instances, they’re making it about THEM.

      I’ve countered a lot of racists and “well meaning white folks ™” today on social media and I’ve not been told to shut up once (unless it is by a racist — I did have one lady tell me to leave the country because I think the confederate flag is bullshit, so you’ll get those). There’s a balance. It’s actually pretty easy to find. If you’ve found that balance and someone is still telling you to shut up, then you’ve found the lunatic fringe and they just have to be ignored. We feminists have our own lunatic fringe. The ones who blow up Twitter over a comic book movie but couldn’t give two shits about Boko Haram. Those people are just looking for attention.

      I doubt most black people are going to accuse you of “white knighting” if you see a white person “making it about them” and explain to that white person why they shouldn’t be doing that. I’ve done that many a time and never been accused of “white knighting.”

  10. T

    How to know whether what you’re doing is “right” or not? I’m thinking it’s about finding the sweet spot, where there is a balance… finding a way to be in right relationship. Standing with, not for. Stepping up, stepping back. Showing up, making space. Speaking out, handing over the mic. Like any relationship. It can be a fight, or a dance. And like any relationship, some days, someone will want to pick a fight no matter what you’re doing, and some days, your dance will be all clumsy and you step on toes without meaning to. So it’s about apologizing and forgiving, too. And realizing that some spaces need to not include all of us, while other spaces need to be open to all. And realizing that you cannot and do not need to please all the people all the time, but if you’re displeasing a whole lotta people a whole lotta the time, you might want to check out why that is (just ask them, sooner or later you will find someone who is authentic and brave enough to tell you what they would like to have you change). And that is how we grow…

  11. Sean Dennison

    C’mon mainstream media, say the words “white supremacy.” Say the word “terrorism.” Say the words “history of racialized hatred.” Say the words “raised to be a white supremacist.” Say the words, “product of a history and culture of colonialism, racism, and hate.” Say anything EXCEPT “mentally ill.” Because those words do two terrible things: They increase the stigma for those who already suffer enough with mental illness, and they erase the systemic forces that taught a young man to kill Black people.

  12. I can only pray that those who are true will answer the call. May the enabling end and may the transition to utilization of necessary resource and spirit begin. All my love and light to the one who wrote this and to the spirits that move you to do so. You have my wholehearted THANK YOU for finally saying what has been longed to hear.#SALUTE #SUPPORT

  13. The confederate flag was at full staff while the American flag was at half staff in the State Capital of South Carolina. Priceless. No South Carolina Mayor, Governor, or politician should have the right to morn the six that died if they favor the continuous display of a flag soaked in the blood of African slaves and African Americans for over 300 years. Save your tears. They are not worth the tissue you wipe them with.

  14. Dylann Roof is us. If you are white and have ever let someone get away with exhibiting racism and have not confronted it, Dylann is us. The racism he exhibits and used to kill came from everyone of us white folks who have not confronted the racism in our midst every day. When we do not confront the obviously racial comments of our neighbors and friends and acquaintances, we let them stand to be heard and believed by folks like Dylann. He is us. When we do nothing to confront the systemic racial injustice in our midst every day, he is us. When we let our family members get away with their racial insults uttered under their breath as they drive by some black or brown person, Dylann is us.

    1. I’m not Roof. But I live in a culture where all the systems benefit me. The systematic de-valuation of “others” is an invitation to people like Roof. We didn’t create those systems, but we have an obligation to dismantle it. Guilt is not particularly helpful, but taking responsibility is more productive.

      I do confront racist relatives and Facebook Friends. But that is not going to solve the systems. Whites entered the middle class with FHA loans that were not available to Blacks, ghettoizing them and minimizing their opportunity to education and good jobs. When the British abolished slavery, they paid plantation owners £500,000 and the slaves nothing. Our freed slaves and their ancestors never got their 40 acres and a mule for the extraordinary wealth that their work created for Whites. What is the solution for that? The older I get, the more reparations make sense. We bailed out Wall Street for their bad behaviour and can’t make reparations to a people whose ancestors created much of our wealth and have been excluded?

      Then there’s the issue of simply treating Blacks as human beings, especially cops. Did you see the videos of cops cursing and being physically confrontational with teenagers at a pool party? That was child abuse. The Ferguson PD saw the protestors as animals.

      I am not Dylann. I’m a person living in a racist culture with racist systems that I can’t personally dismantle, and none of us can until enough people are willing to risk unpopularity.

  15. Thank you. As a fellow exhausted sister in the struggle for social justice, I thank you. I thank you for your words, for your honesty, for holding so little back that it seems to me you’ve left it all on the field. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  16. Excusing this guy for mental illness when there’s no evidence that he’s ever been diagnosed seems deeply inappropriate. I also note that we never seem to excuse black perpetrators for mental illness.

    Are all terrorists and mass murderers mentally ill? In this case, the murder’s acts were a manifestation of racist beliefs that go back to middle school.

    You also have to be in denial about the many attacks on black churches to make such statements. This isn’t a one off. Wake up.

  17. Perhaps Martha was thinking of the treatment of Eric Gardner, Walter Scott, et al, vs. the treatment of Roof.

  18. This does not look like mental illness to me: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/charleston-shooter-reportedly-published-manifesto/

    In contrast, Michael Holmes, the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooter, wrote pages and pages of “why?” in his journal, had a therapist who tried to alert police, and a family that wasn’t surprised because they had struggled with his schizophrenia for a long time.

    Attributing mental illness to Roof with absolutely no diagnosis is speculative, and definitely different treatment from the Black experience.

  19. Thank you for this thoughtful, pointed essay. I’m feeling more than a little helpless. I vote, I try to live my life as an example of love and tolerance, I write to my representatives often about issues including racism, but it doesn’t feel like I’m doing very much to change this profound problem. I don’t want to throw up my hands in despair and say, “Well, gee, what can one person do?” I heard how FOX “news” reported this event, and I was nauseated. How does an ally ACT to effect change?

  20. Message good. Need also to focus on the economic aspects that perpetuate racism. Abraham Lincoln probably knew that to some extent, even though the Civil War was not motivated to free slaves but to keep the nation together, his own personal belief was antislavery, and eventually he did sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The Civil Rights Movement really gained momentum after the year long Bus Boycott with Rosa Parks – when people lose money they tend to listen more and have to change their own actions (even if beliefs wont’ be changed for a while).

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