This Is Why You Need Real Black Friends: Allies vs. Accomplices.
There have been a lot of buzzwords flying around lately in light of the social justice issues happening in the world. One of them that has particularly gotten on my nerves is the term “ally.” Originally, this was meant to be a term geared primarily towards white people but also includes any non-Black person of colour when used in reference to the Black community. Ally is also a term I learned in my Gay/Straight Alliance group in high school. There, it meant a straight person who was a real supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community. Allyship has been viewed by some as being on the “right” side of history and a progressive/liberal ideology. But there is a real fundamental difference between an “ally” and an “accomplice.”
If I were to take this out of the context of ethnicity and sexual orientation for a moment and look at an ally vs. an accomplice in the workplace, I’d describe it like this: An ally is a person who will give positive feedback in a meeting when you present your ideas, will recommend books you should read or courses you should take when you express that you want to excel or move up in your field; they are the ones who will cheer you on when you get excited about an idea and will genuinely be happy for you when it comes to fruition. They typically stay in their respective lanes, but encourage you to go after your dreams. Ally. An accomplice on the other hand, is the person who walks into your bosses office and ADVOCATES for you to be promoted or for your idea to be implemented. These are the very rare individuals who usually have some sort of clout, power and privilege that allows them into rooms and spaces that you may not be privy to. They are aware of their privilege and use it to ensure that the people they know who are deserving of upward advancement or even just recognition get their due. Accomplices. Or another way to look at it: an ally is the person who will attempt to advocate to your parents when they are about to whip your behind. An accomplice is going to take the licks right along with you and never say a word!
Layering sexual orientation and ethnicity over the ally vs. accomplices conversation then makes things very clear. An ally is someone who wants the very best for you and wants you to achieve your goals, but has no real plan to actually help to make that happen for you. This is usually because they either are not or don’t feel like they are in a place to sacrifice their own privileges in whatever ways they have them. These are people who will not go out of their way or put themselves in any real discomfort to ensure you are being treated equally and fairly in society. They will see horrific things happen and will say something along the lines of “that’s so terrible” or “that’s such a shame! I wish that wasn’t happening,” and then turn right around and continue on with their lives and their business because ultimately your pain and suffering does not affect them one iota. An accomplice does not look at things this way. They are willing to risk it all and put it all on the line for what is right and just and fair. They have courage and are brave. Because they operate from a space of unconditional love, acceptance and support, these are what I affectionately term “ride or die’s.” These individuals are willing to burn the entire house down if they know it’s rotting on the inside. They fight injustices that don’t personally affect them and are willing to risk it all for what is right. These are our white brothers and sisters who rode on the Freedom Rides of 1961; the ones who got bombed on the buses with Black people, beaten up by the klan for being “race traitors,” had dogs and fire hoses set on them along with the Black protestors. These are the men and women who marched with our Black civil rights leaders from the 60s until now and have suffered the same abuses by their own as Black people have. They are the straight people who march in Pride parades every year and donate their time, money and platforms to LGBTQIA+ organizations, not just publicly but privately as well. These are accomplices. People who are willing to take the heat, attacks and outright hatred that racist and homophobic people have, even though these issues don’t affect them personally. They are healthy human beings. Point blank.
This topic has been on the forefront of my mind for a while now, but most recently was brought up again to my attention by a recent post I saw about a handmade jewelry company out of the US that legitimately thought it was a great idea to use the broken glass from the Charleston, SC riots where people died, to make a hand made jewelry collection entitled “Wear Their Names.” Apparently the intent was to make pieces of jewelry that were named after Black people who have recently lost their lives to either police violence or racists who killed them. Some of the names used were Breonna Taylor (The Breonna), Trayvon Martin (The Trayvon), Tamir Rice (The Tamir) and so on and so forth. The pieces ranged from $45 USD for The Tamir earrings to as high as $480 USD for a necklace named The Elijah after Elijah McClain. The intent was to donate 100% of the proceeds to the Black Lives Matter organization. The artists behind this newest madness are a White man and an Asian women who, in their response to the backlash said several disturbing things. I’d like to break down their so-called “apology” to explain to white and non-Black people of colour who still don’t get it, why this is such an issue. The first part of the statement that’s a problem reads, “So sorry to those we offended or harmed. While our intentions were pure and we consulted with a wide variety of people before launching, it is clear that there are issues with the approach we took. Though we only wanted to honor the victim’s names and retell their story, we see now that using those names was inappropriate and in poor taste.” Okay, a couple of things here. Firstly, the “so sorry” in the beginning is legitimely a slap in the face. Imagine, for a moment that a Black person did this. Does anyone honestly think that saying “so sorry” would cut it as a viable apology? We would be lynched. Plain and simple. We’ve been murdered for less. The next part, which I guess was supposed to address the awareness of where they went wrong, completely missed the mark. It doesn’t matter how pure your intentions were or are; you’ve hurt people. Acknowledge this. This is a standard tactic that some white and non-Black people do whenever these types of situations arise, and unfortunately for our community, they do more than for other POC. The second part of that sentence really triggered me, where they mentioned “consulting with a wide variety of people before launching.” Let me say this again since apparently this concept STILL is unclear to non-Black people: WE ARE NOT A MONOLITH. What may have been okay or acceptable for whoever the Black people are in your life does NOT in any way shape or form mean it’s okay for the rest of us. No one speaks for all of us. This idea that your token Black friends or acquaintances give you the pass for the rest of the community is a joke and is false. If the intent here truly was to help the victims and their families, then these artists would have reached out to said families, ran this idea by them first, got them on board and then worked with them to donate to the causes and charities on behalf of the victims that the family wanted or felt the victim would want. Or better yet, the funds could have been given to the families directly for them to decide whether they wanted to keep them or donate them. THIS would have been the right intent and doing things in proper order. No one should be making a profit off of another dead humans name when they did not get proper clearance from the family to use said name and make money off of it, regardless of “intent” to donate to Black organizations. That is completely missing the point. It is not your place as non-Black people to decide where funds go made off of the deaths of Black people. Period. As an aside, I’m completely confused as to why these two individuals months and in some cases years after the deaths of my community members felt the need to “retell their stories” as if white and non-Black POC are deaf, dumb and blind. If you live in North America and have a cell phone or watch TV of any kind, or read the news or talk to people, you would have heard about every single one of these stories. They are not new. They have been told numerous times by multiple Black activists, leaders and the victim’s families, so why these two individuals felt that THEY needed to tell their stories by making jewelry that they sold is beyond me. As if somehow a white woman wearing The Elijah necklace is going to give more of a shit than she did before she knew what the story was behind the necklace. The fact that both artists came in with a white saviour complex is extremely troubling. We do not need people outside of our community telling our stories. We need people outside of our community to amplify the Black people who are telling our story. If a white person needs to hear about the stories of dead Black people through buying pieces of jewelry to care, then something is seriously wrong and those are NOT the people who should be wearing these pieces. How exactly were wearing pieces of broken glass, littered with the blood of a Black and White activists going to make some White people give a shit? Most don’t even care when they see the videos. They continued the apology by doing the typical things that White and non-Black people do when they are not really apologizing: they talked about the effects all of this had on them like death threats and the like they were receiving and how “discouraging” the backlash had been, but that they were going to take a step back and figure out how to proceed. They then finished it off by saying they would honour any of the orders already placed BUT would also honour any refunds for “unfulfilled orders.” They added that “It seems a lot of the confusion was based around the profits-some didn’t like the organization we chose, while others didn’t see that we were donating 100% of our profits, and others felt even then we were only doing it for credit.” Again, completely missing the mark and point. Personally, I don’t care what organization they were donating the funds to. The entire setup is completely wrong and inhumane and the fact that even in their apology, they still don’t get it brings me to the point of this article.
Too many times has my community seen this happen to us. From large Fortune 500 companies down to small rural art studios, it is clear that in 2020 there are racial prejudices that make people think that this sort of behaviour towards my community is okay and acceptable and can be explained away with a simple social media post that starts off with “so sorry” when we all know they are not. From Unilever and their implication that Black women’s skin is dirty in a commercial to Joe Fresh putting a black child in a monkey shirt, these are the continued microaggressions the Black community faces on a daily basis. I am absolutely sick, tied and infuriated that this continues to happen to us. I have never seen someone put a swastika in a commercial “accidentally” and then so “so sorry” to the Jewish community because they didn’t know it would be offensive. Everyone knows the things that are offensive to other cultures, especially in North America. I no longer am tolerating and listening to people who say that they didn’t know these types of things are offensive. This is why non-Black people of colour need a wide variety of Black friends and REAL Black friends. Anyone who has a real Black person around them and not a token who’s just along for the ride and food, they know we will set them straight every single time and give them parameters around what’s okay and what’s not. I witness some Black people doing this to their non-Black friends all the time. While there are definitely some Black people who do not like Black people and will go along with racist tropes and jokes that their friends make, we the Black community know who those people are and what they are about. We know they are self-hating and thus attract non-Black people who align with their ideas about the Black community. I’ve witnessed this first hand by self-hating Black people so I am aware of the White people who are friends with them and why. These are not the White people who give a crap about Black people or Black lives, but they’ve fooled themselves into thinking they are diverse and open because they have “Black friends”, when in actuality they are not.
Non-Black people, you need to do better. You need to have a diverse group of friends from other ethnicities, and not just tokens around you. I understand your token friends from other ethnic groups make some of you feel good about yourself and your closet racism as you get to fling it around freely in their presence without challenge. This creates a sense of safety and rightness for you. But this is a false sense of security. And woke Black people everywhere will come for your whole neck if this foolishness continues. DO BETTER!