On Being a Better Ally

At the end of my podcast interview with Leela Sinha, author of You’re Not Too Much: Intensive Lives in an Expansive World, she said something that struck a chord and I would have loved to explore further. In light of recent political events, it has come back to my mind and I’ve been thinking about it a lot more. She said, “There are ways in which intensiveness - understanding intensiveness, helps us understand systemic racism. Because there are a lot of ways in which, over time, intensiveness has become culturally correlated with being nonwhite.”

Now, being white, I’ve come to realize that I’ve avoided talking about the topic of race publicly because I don’t feel qualified to speak on behalf of people of color. I actively seek out and share posts on this topic, but I almost never express my own thoughts on the matter because I’m afraid that I will say the wrong thing.

This is part of the problem isn’t it?

What I can speak to is this: partially understanding what it is like to feel you have to “tone it down” to fit societal norms, my own observations growing up in a liberal community and moving from a highly diverse Southern California neighborhood to the predominantly white Pacific Northwest.

Leela and I both grew up in the Unitarian Universalist community, a highly liberal faith. She was surprised when I expressed that I found the UU community to have a high percentage of intense people, when she felt the opposite. I realized that while they appreciated a certain type of unconventionality away from the mainstream, they had their own set of social expectations that could be equally problematic if left unexamined. The focus has always been on “love and unity,” but not everyone appreciates being pushed out of their comfort zone by assertive truths.

On election day, I received a copy of UU World Magazine and was drawn to this article from Bill Sinkford, the minister of the big Portland UU church on The Dream of White Innocence.  He talked about his faith and hope in the liberal faith community at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and his disappointment when they pulled out of the cause when things got too uncomfortable.

It is short sided to focus only on the “love and acceptance” part without confronting the realities that got us here in the first place. As Bill says, “resistance is what love looks like in the face of hate. Resistance is what love looks like in the face of violence.”

I think it is all too easy for those of us in the “blue states” to think we are not part of the problem - it’s those other parts of the country that are so racist. I would argue though, that the most frustrated expressions I’ve heard from people of color are from those very “progressive” states. Portland, in fact, has a very sad and sordid racist history and the “veneer of political correctness with an inability to confront discussions about race directly” has been dubbed “Portland Nice”. But this “niceness” is not geographically specific, it’s prevalent in all liberal communities where kindness is only recognized when it is also “nice.”

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, “niceness” comes from a place of external expectations while “kindness” comes from a deep caring within. Insisting on “niceness” at all costs breeds either resentment, ignorance, or both.

It’s time we step out of our comfort zones and realize that there is no one acceptable way to grieve, protest, advocate, speak up or resist. For real change to happen, we have to get uncomfortable - otherwise we are just continuing the status quo.

I can’t pretend to be “enlightened” or completely “woke” myself. I don’t know what I don’t know and I can’t pretend otherwise. What I am trying to do, however, is listen, acknowledge and not minimize. We can’t be part of the solution if we are afraid to face the problem.

This morning, Leela shared a post on Facebook that was also a great reminder that when we get involved in movements, we need to follow the lead of people of color who have been leading this fight all along. I’m sharing the post below because it’s an important reminder of how we can be better allies:

From Mateo Guadalupe

"Alright, white friends. We need to talk. I'm seeing a lot of you talking about donating to 'anti trump' causes and huge white-led orgs like aclu and planned parenthood right now. Some of you are putting a lot of money and energy into 4-fucking-day old organizations and facebook groups started by other white people feeling compelled to 'do something about trump.'

But the thing is, there are already brilliantly strategic, robust, multi-pronged efforts being led by those most impacted by this regime of white supremacy. People of color, especially black women & queer folks, have been leading the fight to dismantle racism and white supremacy ALL ALONG. This shit might be new to you, my blue state comrades, but this has been the lived reality for a lot of people for a long long time.

Please reconsider where you are placing your coins and energy right now. POCs already have the solutions and the strategies to win liberation. FUND THEM. INVEST IN THEM.

Give money to Black Lives Matter. Give money to black & brown lead resistance in red states, like Southerners On New Ground and SisterSong. Give money to latinxs leading the fight against deportations like Trans Queer Pueblo and Not1MoreDeportation. Fund platforms for black brilliance & critical thought like BYP100 and Echoing Ida. Support a radical funder like Third Wave Fund. This is a time for you to LISTEN to people of color, FOLLOW our lead, and INVEST in our liberation.

Take a seat, and open your wallets."