The Exhausting Debate Between Allyship and Solidarity

Posted December 16, 2016 by Blessing Ikpa

Within the last week, I have experienced an array of emotions. Feeling emotion is rejuvenating, it is powerful. Our very true feelings and thoughts are to be validated, not a characteristic that we should hide.

As a member of a marginalized community, I understand the pain of realization when my country inexplicitly shows that my black life does not matter. As a millennial, I have been living in the etched reality of progressiveness and community, even though I come from a state that could be viewed as the opposite. In various communities on my college campus or within my hometown of Norman, Oklahoma, I found solace and companionship with, I believed that our country could finally overcome our disastrous history (with respect to the stolen land of indigenous people that we continuously inhabit).

As I processed my anger, there have been consistent calls of “unity” and “love” as we decide where we want to go from here as a country. I’m nowhere near a position where I want to band together in a form of love and unity when I have been slapped across the face with the brandishing of racism and hatred in our country. It is difficult and concerning to be in a place of where we immediately have to be open to dialogue and unification when marginalized communities were faced with a harsh reality. “We finally have to acknowledge that we are not a “post-racial society” and what ramifications this will have for marginalized communities.

The other half of my shock lands with the people I call my friends and “allies”. As a Young People For Fellow, I am cautious of the relationship between marginalized communities and allies. As I am an African-American woman of Nigerian immigrant descent who has primarily navigated White spaces, I know the barriers that are placed in my path but also the privileges I hold. When explaining to some of my white friends the anger and frustration I feel, along with valid criticism of their proposed allyship, I was instantly met with backlash and resistance. I was told that I consistently ask “too much” of my allies, which has put me in a position of redefining in my own life what allyship looks like. If we are suppose to be in this battle together, why does it feel as though I am the only hollow voice?

Being a woman of color in a world that figuratively (and literally) breaks you down daily will forever be an uphill battle. I’m cautious of the moves I make, the words I say and the actions I do. I know that anytime I step out of line, this will not only be a reflection of me, but of my communities. Explaining this to a white ally is difficult because they will forever have the opportunity to view themselves in a singular format. Their actions and reactions are only reflective of them and not their communities. People of color, LGBTQ folks, undocumented people and other communities will never experience this sentiment. Any move we make, we will have to be cautious of how we are perceived by the world.

For the White allies, I am asking you to listen. I am asking you to set outside the privilege that you carry with you everyday and listen to what we are telling you. Listen to our justified anger, our fear, and the tiredness in our voices. We are tired. We are exhausted from having to slap a smile onto our faces so that you can understand institutionalized racism. When we tell you that your privilege is showing, please don’t respond by shifting the conversation onto your feelings. We constantly have to navigate this world watching out for the feelings of White people. Can you take a moment to care about our feelings? Can you take a moment to listen to the very real concerns that we have?