Why I Can’t Say I’m An Ally to People of Color
As a white queer feminist anti-racist, I believe it’s not my place to state that I’m an ally to people of color. What I can say is that I strive to be an ally and it’s my job to keep learning what people of color consider an ally. The single most important way to learn this is to listen, and as a feminist, I am particularly committed to listening to women of color.
Following the tremendous public outcry when a stunningly oblivious Ani DiFranco announced her upcoming songwriting retreat would be held at the largest slave-built-and-run plantation in the antebellum south, she cancelled instead of moving the event, and then wrote what I found to be a defensive non-apology with the tone of someone who believes herself to be a victim.
As a holder of white privilege, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing this series of events as an opportunity to listen and learn rather than suffer the degrees of hurt, anger, and frustration about which countless women of color are taking their valuable time to speak out about. Many, many women of color feel that white feminists have failed to fathom their lives and perspectives, struggles and concerns, and that this incident provides a very public in-their-face example. This is an issue that deeply concerns me. Until now, with the exception of a few comments on Facebook, I’ve chosen to shut up and listen.
I’d like to share a few links to some powerful voices belonging to both women of color and white feminists (including a white male) on the subjects of racism, intersectionality, whiteness, and more. As you read, I invite you to read more slowly than you usually do and to pay careful attention to what’s being said—to focus on hearing and absorbing these perspectives. Personally, if I’m reading and start to argue in my head with a particular statement, or I’m beginning to feel offended somehow (often signaled by a shot of adrenaline), I take notice. If I find myself wanting to debate, I ask myself why? These voices deserve to be heard and white America needs to listen.
I invite you to sit down with me here in the audience. Since this is not a conversation in a personal relationship, classroom or kitchen, office or on the street—we’re simply sitting in the audience—we can consider stepping back from the impulse to quickly contribute our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. When it comes to racism, it’s possible that the impulse to challenge what’s being said before the speaker is done speaking and before we’ve taken time to really think about what they’re saying is a way to protect ourselves from facing something that’s very uncomfortable or even painful.
The need to debate rather than listen may be about a need for power. And since the subject of racism inevitably boils down to the issue of power, it’s important for readers who hold white privilege to step back from the control we might want (consciously or unconsciously) by arguing about something that we can never personally experience—what it’s like to be a person of color in the United States of America.
Please note: this is a short list but one of the links is to a page of links. For one reader, this brief list may constitute a helpful review. For another, it may be an introduction. All I can say is that I’ve found these voices to be helpful.
5 Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism
This is a good place to start, especially if you’re a white feminist—regardless of your gender identification and orientation.
The Angry Black Woman:
This collective of three writers includes one who uses the alias “The Angry Black Woman.” The first link alone is enough to fill a syllabus.
Required Reading: http://theangryblackwoman.com/required-reading
Angry Black Woman’s in-depth comment that functions as an essential article in this discussion: http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/2006/09/18/monday-debate-what-is-racism/#comment-293
Kimberly N. Foster is the publisher and editor-in-chief of For Harriet as well as other online media properties for women of color.
A white anti-racist male writer and educator.