These last two weeks, we’ve seen massive spikes in energy for Black Lives Matter and Black liberation. We’ve said their names and honored their lives. We’ve seen protests and riots spread across our nation, demanding justice for the countless Black lives lost to police brutality and racist ideology. We’ve seen this energy spread to social media, genuinely convincing people to be better allies to the Black community.
Performative allyship is something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week – what does it really mean to be an ally to the Black community, or to any marginalized group? When does my allyship become performative and how do I fix it? What is my responsibility to the Black community?
As feminists, we know that everything is interconnected. Policy, ideology, economics – they all work together to oppress groups of people in our nation. Likewise, we know that NOW is the National Organization for Women because you don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist. When it comes to Black liberation, we have to know that our allyship is critical. We have to know that our participation in systems that privilege Whiteness, heterosexuality, or economic wealth means that we’re participating in structures that also harm Black bodies.
All non-Black people have a responsibility – right now and always – to educate ourselves about the oppression of Black communities in the United States. White populations in particular must carry the biggest portion of this responsibility – even in 2020 power is largely consolidated in the hands of White women and men, and that power must be used wisely. None of us can remain ignorant about the lived realities of Black people in America.
Most of us know that Black people have been enslaved – both directly and indirectly – for centuries, but do we know exactly how? Answering this question means reading about the Prison Industrial Complex, the unequal funding of American public schools, our welfare system, the “war on drugs,” and voter suppression. It means watching movies, listening to music and podcasts, and reading literature created by Black artists. It means donating to Black-run organizations, bail-funds, and other groups that provide support to those doing the work of Black liberation. It means volunteering time, energy, and resources when you can.
It means challenging anti-Blackness and racism when you see it. These are uncomfortable conversations, but feminists have been having uncomfortable conversations for years. We’ve been labeled “feminist-killjoys” because we know how to disrupt a Thanksgiving dinner and call-out misogyny at our own kitchen tables. We know that “boys will be boys” is more than an old adage about manhood and that sexist microaggressions have an impact in the workplace, the home, and in the world.
As feminists, we know exactly what needs to be done – it’s just a matter of doing it. In the same way that we won’t let casual sexist comments go under the radar, we cannot let racist ideology persist in our spaces. We pledge to be intersectional and that means owning our privilege and recognizing that Black people don’t owe us emotional labor for our guilt, congratulations for our role in ending racism, or an education on their oppression. We have to recognize that sometimes we are the ones committing microaggressions, the ones building our emancipation on the oppression of Black communities.
Black women, Black trans people, Black disabled people, and Black queer people have been a part of the feminist movement from the beginning – regardless of whether feminists actually made space for them. Black communities have been fighting for us, and it’s time we truly fight for them.
Liyanga de Silva is an assistant in NOW’s Communications Department