I’ll be honest – I’m incredibly nervous writing this. The topic of allyship feels daunting, and rest assured that this blog post is only the very tip of the iceberg for me as I write and for you, the reader. I’m very wary of sharing publicly about something that I truly feel so unbelievably unqualified to offer insight on. For clarity’s sake, let me introduce myself.
My name is Becca, and I’m a 24 year old white female living in Central Virginia. I am not qualified, nor is it my intention, to speak on behalf of the black community. I have never lived that experience and I am certainly not here to provide any anecdotes. While my greatest passion in writing, especially here at KNOWN, is to offer guidance and insight, and while that often leads me to writing in a “here are your steps to navigating this,” style, I am not going to do that today. While I share what has worked for me, I don’t intend to prescribe any “right” way of pursuing allyship. Simply put, it’s not my place. (More on that later.)
Instead, as the title states, I’m just here to share a few thoughts.
What is an ally? An ally is someone who resists injustice on behalf of hurting and marginalized people. They may even have privilege or social capital that those with whom they are allies do not. They are then able to use that power to expose and speak against the injustice and work to make change. This past year (2020), I found myself reconsidering my position as an ally to the black community, not because I had any change of heart, but because a conversation that began in my community finally led me to ask the question: does Jesus really call me to be an ally?
When you grow up outside of faith, sometimes this happens. Years into your relationship with Christ, as you continue to expand on your knowledge of scripture and seek to grow spiritually, you realize that you have beliefs and principles that are based on morality, but not yet founded in scripture. So, in true Vacation Bible School fashion, and truly out of an effort to build my life on a more solid foundation than “what Becca thought was right in middle school,” I ask myself: What Would Jesus Do?
I don’t claim to know whether or not Jesus would get involved in social-political movements, because I just don’t know. I have heard arguments for and against why Jesus would or wouldn’t defend a specific political party or movement, and quite frankly, my mind just isn’t made up there. But, I have asked myself: would Jesus look for ways to break social stigma? I think so. Would Jesus work to empower the powerless to know that they are equally loved and created for a purpose? I believe so. Would Jesus break bread and do life with people of every gender, class, creed, and social standing? Absolutely. As I read scripture, that’s the Jesus that I have come to know. That’s extremely simplified, but that’s where I land. Does Jesus call me to be an ally? Yes. Yes, he does.
The most important part of processing through considering allyship, especially in 2020, has been remembering that this is not my story, but how I behave is my responsibility. Simply put, I am white. No matter how many black friends or family I have or how much I get involved in serving and supporting the black community, I cannot own their experience. I also cannot hold my black friends and family responsible for educating me about institutional racism and the systems in our country (assuming you’re also American) that underserve and hurt this community. It is my responsibility to practice self-forgetfulness, not self-importance, responsibly seek out knowledge, and adjust my behavior accordingly.
Remaining engaged in conversations about allyship has been vital, especially as I find myself living, working, and interacting in a largely white community. I have to recognize my position, my experience, and my privilege.
I have never feared mistreatment due to the color of my skin. I have never been followed around in a store or been scared for my life during a traffic stop. I have never feared judgement because of the way that I style my hair or been nervous about not receiving a call back for a job interview because of my last name. I have never had to fight for my voice to be heard in a conference room because, not only am I a woman, but I’m a woman of color. I’ve never suffered microaggressions about my ability to articulate or my assumed life experiences of the common black woman. The list could go on.
I am remarkably immature on this journey, personally. I want to do better, and I am actively seeking more wisdom and education on this subject. I’m grieving, as many of us who find ourselves on this journey must. As we uncover for ourselves the truth of centuries of racism and grief, we experience shock and grief, as well. It’s tempting to get tired and feel helpless, but take heart, sister. Remain engaged and let the good work that God is doing in you to propel you, by spiritual conviction, to doing good.
And if you, like me, feel unqualified to speak up, I would encourage you to do it anyway. This past summer, I was given the opportunity to begin a conversation with an influential woman of color in my community, and my only question was this: how do I speak up without saying the wrong thing? We discussed the balance of the responsibility that white followers of Jesus feel to speak up on behalf of anti-racism, but the pressure to also not speak for our black brothers and sisters (especially incorrectly!). We had a dialogue about pros and cons of speaking up or staying silent and ultimately, we landed on the fact that saying anything out of a heart to advocate and serve others is better than saying nothing. And almost just as important as speaking up, having a heart to receive correction is incredibly important. My humility and willingness to hear that I’ve gotten it wrong is just as important as my effort to do the right thing.
This work is exhausting and heart-breaking, but it’s important to remember that the grief is not pointless; every life changed by the progression of justice means so much to the God who formed and loves them. As for running the race of allyship, I always want to be asking myself, “does this grieve the heart of God?” And if it does, my prayer is simply, “break my heart for what breaks Yours.” I want passion and perseverance. I want to do this work for the rest of my life, keeping in mind the truth of our identity in Christ and the wise words of Dr. King that said that Black Americans, “hold only one key to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the hands of the white community.”
We have an important role to play here. Let’s get to it.
“And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Reformed Church of America’s article, “Responding To Racism And Listening To The African American And Black Community“
The University of Pennsylvania‘s article, “Becoming an Anti-Racist White Ally“
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Becca Easterling is an Enneagram type 8, an extrovert to the extreme, and has a newfound love of Mochi ice cream that has taken over her life.