The Problem with the White Moderate Allyship

Jordon Crawford, Columnust

“Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

In light of recent events such as the #boycottStarbucks and other cases of racial discrimination, I could not help but turn my attention to the topic of allyship and, in particular, the allyship of the White Moderate on this campus but also in general.

April 4, 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. As an international student from Jamaica, where every year we remember this tragedy, I was disappointed by the widespread ignorance shared by so many of my colleagues about this important event. Apart from an email sent by a member of faculty, nothing was done to commemorate this day. I was shocked.

I was given renewed hope when I received an email about the “March for Humanity” that was being planned for the upcoming Monday. Despite being one of the busiest days of the semester for me, I opted to get involved in anyway possible. As a black, male student on this white campus, how could I not play my part in remembering MLK and his contributions?

And then came Monday. It was a beautiful day and as usual on sunny days, Ankeny Field was covered with white people getting tanned, playing frisbee and swinging in hammocks. I thought to myself that this would be the perfect setting for the march and the brief gathering that would follow. As with a lot of things, I was proven wrong.

After three invitations made by Dean Mooko and others, a march around Ankeny to kick things off and other failed attempts, I was shocked to see people remaining on Ankeny playing soccer and carrying on like they had no care in the world. Perhaps it’s just me, but as someone who has felt the sting of discrimination, on and off this campus, this inactiveness that was being displayed by predominantly my white colleagues angered me.

This is one of and perhaps the biggest problem I have when it comes to allyship from the White Moderate. To say “I am not racist” but do nothing to fight against those who are explicitly exercising hate is void in my opinion. As MLK quotes in his Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963, “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” This is the biggest flaw with allyship on this campus.

The true test of allyship is acting in means that will risk one’s own privilege. By way of what I saw at the March for Humanity, there are so many among us who have failed this test beyond compare. It has become abundantly clear that the moment a white person’s privilege becomes challenged is the moment that their allyship pauses or transforms into passivity. What a lot of my white colleagues tend to forget, however, is that there are a lot of us who dream day in and day out to be blessed with even an ounce of that privilege which their skin color has deprived them of getting. They forget that empowering and fighting alongside others is not an infringement of their own power or privilege but simply a form of sharing.

In a conversation that I recently had with a friend of mine, I was asked whose job it is to stop racism in the United States. Now, while I am not Einstein or any all-knowing being, my answer is simple. If POC or oppressed minorities could stop racism, the institutional systems of discrimination and oppression would all be dead today. While each person has a role to play in this fight, white people must recognize that their endowment of privilege and power puts them at a much higher position in pushing for change in policies and laws. Sitting on Ankeny sunbathing while black bodies are being incarcerated and abused and immigrants are being unfairly treated will for sure not solve anything.

The White Moderate is too afraid to share their privilege and power and until this fear is rejected and transformed, racism, sexism and all other forms of oppression will do nothing but thrive in America. How else can one explain it? Everyday, I get up and I hear all around “Black Lives Matter” being chanted from white lips. Yet we are still dealing with the predicaments of mass incarceration of black bodies and police brutality.

When will we wake up and actually start practicing what we preach? Let us remember the words of MLK: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

The fight for equity needs actions more than passivity. So the next time, instead of taking pictures of marches, how about we join them? Instead of singing along to your Spotify from the comfort of your blanket, how about singing freedom songs from the discomfort of walking in the sun? The next time we say that we are for equity, how about, instead, we show that we are through our actions?  Whether it be through voting in local elections for certain senators or boycotting more events that are obviously racist or oppressive, at the end of the day, our actions speak much louder than words.