Allies: Where were you Last Week? Where will you be Next Week?

Where Were You Last Week?

Last week I saw a lot of social media messages of sadness, anger, and heartbreak in response to the latest deaths of African Americans by white police officers. I felt it too, and I asked myself what am I doing around racial equity in my community. I spend a lot of time thinking about race, closing achievement gaps, community, compassion and empathy, and my privileges. Even with all of my thinking and processing about empathy and community, I was annoyed. I was annoyed with the sudden chorus of people posting to social media about how upset they were. I know I shouldn’t be annoyed, but I was because racial equity work is something we need to work on every day not just when there is a tragedy or when everyone else is talking about it. I wanted to ask people who posted “Where were you last week? Where were you last week when the little things were building up to tragedies we see in the news today? It didn’t just happen, we needed you before the tragedy and we’ll need you tomorrow too.”

The problem with only posting or talking about race during a crisis or when everyone else is talking about it is we fail to remember the real work happens in everyday conversations between friends and colleagues and daily choices. I hope allies will continue to use their voices and move to action. Recently I was at a dinner called Unity in Community, it was designed to open up a conversation about race. A white colleague talked about how he had been in a heated discussion on race with colleagues who ‘didn’t get it.’ He said he engaged in the conversation as a white ally. He also said “it was exhausting and I recognize I can step out of the conversation as a white person. People of color can’t always step out.”

We need allies in the conversations, not just when there is a chorus and not just to do the easy actions of posting to social media, donating to the same slate of nonprofits who claim to work with communities of color, and hangout in ways that are ‘safe’ and comfortable. We need to do the harder work, the everyday work, of learning about how race impacts people, forming new relationships with people who are different than us, and de-centering practices that benefit communities who are already thriving.

What Are You Doing Next Week? We Need Actions and Relationships.

Our actions speak volumes about what we believe and value. I’m hoping people will engage in dialogue and push for change. Racial equity wins are made between news cycles, change happens in boardrooms and classrooms, the wins come in conversations and when we change practices to benefit communities and people of color.

Earlier this week on a local parenting Facebook group I started a thread inviting people to DSCN2966introduce themselves. The online group has been together for a while, but often times posts are transactional or asking for advice on parenting situations. I wanted to pause and find out who is in the group, relationships can’t form if we don’t know who is there. Allies become allies when we know who is around us and we understand each others backgrounds.

The thread is great, people discovered commonalities and it is neat to read who is in the online community. The roll call of members also highlighted blind spots for the group, such as who is underrepresented and how easy we default to dominant ways which become a club of the like-minded. I was heartened to read people’s posts, including where group members engaged in conversation around race, sexual identity, and privilege. These online conversations were more productive because people were willing to share and dialogue. Now the question is how do we continue to use the space to push for equitable changes in our broader community; I know it will be easier because we have a better idea of who is in our community, both people of color and allies.

I hope everyone, especially white allies, who were outraged, sad, angry, or confused during the turmoil of the last week choose to use some of that energy to do something differently. To get to racial equity we must change and evolve. Perhaps as a first step is to pause and get to know the people in your community, especially people who are often outside of our daily encounters. The new relationship may help to bring about new thinking that helps to alleviate some of the anxiety and sadness, and propel us to action.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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