White Folks: It’s Too Late for ‘Allies’ [Op-Ed]

By Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding Jul 09, 2020

These last few months of COVID-19, “Karens-in-the park” and videos of police sanctioned violence have taxed the souls of Black, Indigenous and other people of color to the nth degree. Still, the long-time-coming wake-up call, white America, is what many of us have yearned and worked for all of our lives. Never in 500 years could we imagine that the 6th level of the real-life “Jumanji” happening in the 2,020th year of our Lord would be city councils actually voting to abolish their police departments. A vortex to justice has opened and there is no time to waste in pushing for complete racial justice across systems and institutions in our society. But the truth is some of our white colleagues are about to get left behind for not adequately preparing to level up. So look white people, I need to rip the flesh tone Band-Aid off and let you know…it is absolutely too late for you to be an ally. At this moment in history, as we move to abolish racism, it calls for you to either be an accomplice or completely get out of the way.

In the last four weeks, BIPOC folks have fielded too many timelines, tweets and Messenger requests for resources on “How to be a good ally.” In the current moment, white people, you simply cannot be a “good ally” anymore. It is no longer enough—it’s burdensome and it will get BIPOC folks killed on this racial justice battlefield. Yes, there was a time when allies were all the rage and it was sufficient for the three-hour listening sessions over a six-year period. Because America was not ready. But it is on and popping right now and no one has time to keep holding your hand.

Unfortunately, ally has come to mean supporting character in the work of dismantling racism. As Tre Johnson of The Washington Post recently pointed out, allies are such that when Black people are dying, white allies start book clubs and reading circles. Allies will get more BIPOC killed spinning their wheels and moving along at a snail’s pace. Recently, at a city council meeting here in Colorado Springs one such person who postures herself as a Progressive Republican—apparently, they exist—offered to a community demanding police accountability and transparency that the best expression of government comes with “incremental change.”

No one is out here incrementally dying.

When this woman wanted to implement a bike share/rental program to the section of the city where she lives, she knew exactly which line items of the city’s budget could be cut and reallocated. This kind of tapping in an out, or stalling to do actual work for racial justice, so long as people see white folks tweeting or posing in their BLM t-shirts is not going to dismantle racism. 

Accomplices understand that the work to dismantle racism is not benevolence, it is the fight for one’s own humanity that has been broken by a system that would demonize and devalue other human beings. The lack of ownership and liability allows allies to take the cover of, “Well, I should be listening but I’m going to wait until Black people tell me what to do.” BIPOC folks have been telling white people what the plan is and what to do for long enough. Resting in the comfortable position of ally means that white people never have to take responsibility for actually doing the work to dismantle racism. White people need to know whether they are in or out, and that this work is not about “saving” Black folks and other people of color, but that this work is about saving their own righteous minds from the sickness that is white supremacist ideology and systems. 

Recently I put out a call asking my white friends, on Facebook: “Who’s ready to tell the truth and dismantle racism? Who is ready to move from being an ally to an accomplice?” Oh, the private messages or requests from white allies I received! I get that it’s a grand request and most people become overwhelmed by the idea of tackling such an ingrained and insidious problem, but the heart of the question is, does one have the will and genuine desire? True, white people may not have the master plan figured out—FYI all BIPOC folks don’t either. But if in the struggle for liberation, we all know that the goal is to destroy the plantation, do you really need me to tell you to light a match? When white people come to the realization that their personal investment in their own humanity is on the line, white people will begin knowing what to do in this work. 

So, even as Jesus got fed up with people riding the fence and proclaimed, “I’d rather you be hot or cold”…piss or get off the pot. Black, Indigenous and people of color don’t have any more time to waste on white allyship. Please take the words of Lila Watson to heart: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.”

Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding is Chair and tenured Associate Professor of Women’s and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church of Colorado Springs. She is also a former candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado and founder of The Truth and Conciliation Commission www.truthandconciliation.org