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  • Writer's pictureHeather Chavin

How can I start to become an ally?

It's better to be on the journey than to continue to deny

“Who is George Floyd?” I said to my housemate and best friend Doug as I worked on my dinner.

“Jeez Heather, you must be the only person on the planet who doesn’t know what’s going on.” Doug eyed me over his laptop.

I quickly got myself up to speed on the facts, and when I learned that the cops involved had been arrested, my first thought was, “Oh good, at least they did that much this time. Good thing people filmed it.”

Then it occurred to me how horrible that response was on so many levels.

I have a very beginner’s understanding of racism. I don’t pretend to be “color-blind” because I know if you’re not white, your experience is very different in this country. I also thought I knew about white privilege but I had only scratched the surface.

To stand safely in my kitchen and think that an arrest was an improvement was a huge white privilege moment.

I have the privilege of not feeling like I could be next or that my family might be targeted. I have the privilege of moving around my neighborhood knowing things like that don’t happen here to people like me. I feel safe going for a jog (Ahmaud Arbery) or sitting in my living room (Breonna Taylor) for heaven’s sake. I don’t have to explain to anyone around me the emotions that come with yet another murder or answer the question, “You didn’t know him, why are you so upset?”

My fellow citizens are being targeted and killed for no good reason but I stood over here with “us” and put black people over there as “them.”

“They have a problem and it’s devastating, intensely painful and unfair. I wonder what they will do about it?” It sounds like racist privilege to me, not only for my inaction but also for my ignorant actions that contribute to the problem.

The real question for me is what am I going to do about it? So far, I don’t know. My first step is to do a better job of listening so I don’t make it worse - so I start to learn how I am contributing to the problem so I can stop. My upcoming blog posts will be focused on highlighting other voices, especially black voices. I will share what I’m learning as I read and watch them but I will keep it brief with the intention that you connect directly with their work.


By Stephanie Long based on comments from Leslie Mac

One of the most impactful points Leslie Mac makes is that we seem to think that feeling bad about white supremacy and racism is some sort of endpoint. Like, now I’m not a racist because I learned a little about it and I feel bad, my work is done. That’s where I was, standing in my kitchen learning of the latest murder. In the words of Leslie Mac:

“The goal is not just to have people learn about white supremacy, but to understand how their personal lives support it. White people need to do a lot of introspective work to understand the ways in which they personally contribute to, benefit from and tolerate white supremacy.”

Yes, I still do a lot of that. I’m still very unconscious of how I do it.

The other point that I made myself read again and again is the fact that I WILL fail in my attempts to be a good ally. No question about it (and in fact, I already have). She challenges me with her words in how I will respond in the face of those failures. Will I get defensive or suck it up and try again. And again.

If you read nothing else, read the last paragraph in the article.


By Rachel Elizabeth Cargle

If when you hear “Black Lives Matter” you think to yourself “All Lives Matter,” then take some time with this article. After reading it, I feel like I now hear an unspoken second half - “Just as much as white lives.” When you look at the data around the dangers black people face from not only the police but also the healthcare system and the whole justice system from courts to prisons, you can see the huge gap.

It’s not that Black Lives Matter MORE than white lives, it’s a call for parity. Currently, Black lives are not valued the same as white lives so, at this point in time, all lives don’t matter equally. And that’s the point here. In order for all lives to matter, we need Black lives to matter.

Cargle gives a great metaphor when she says:

“If a patient being rushed to the ER after an accident were to point to their mangled leg and say, “This is what matters right now,” and the doctor saw the scrapes and bruises of other areas and countered, “but all of you matters,” wouldn’t there be a question as to why he doesn't show urgency in aiding that what is most at risk?”


From Late Night with Seth Meyers

If you don’t believe that police really treat Black people differently than white people, that it’s just a few bad apples, please listen to Amber Ruffin’s stories of her run-ins with the police. Story is a great way to empathize by living through someone’s experience with them and Amber is a wonderful, engaging storyteller.

She drew me into the stories as if I was her, which then took me down the rabbit hole imagining what I might be thinking and how I might act if I had to face what she faced day after day. I can’t really know and feel it, of course, but every little bit of empathy helps me understand and appreciate the intensity of emotion fueled by injustice like this.

The stories are not graphically violent but if police run-ins are a trigger, please be aware.


I want to take a careful journey, not a slow one

Since I now know that I will fail in my attempts to be a good ally, I welcome feedback here on where I screwed up my language and/or perspective and how I could do it differently. I will also take any and all suggestions for more voices to listen to and more actions to take.

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