Thursday, August 6, 2020

Allies Are Not Self-Declared

Never have I referred to myself as an 'ally,' and I have no intention of beginning to do so.

In 5th grade a couple of men came around to the rural public school I attended, offering small, red copies of the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs to everyone in my grade. This is something that I doubt is allowed there now, with the very real concerns around separation of church and state. Paging through it in the days to come, and logically attempting to read it from front to back, I don't know that I ever got past Matthew in it. Between Catholic Mass, Baptist Vacation Bible School, and this little New Testament was formed a core concept of the Christian life: No self-aggrandizement

"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."Matthew 6:1 NRSV

In the Gospels Jesus really takes the Jewish leaders to task for making a show of their religion. Whether they were truly like this, or this was a useful stereotype for the Gospel writers to get a point across, it's hard to tell. What we are to understand is that announcing our charitable acts, praying on street corners, and generally doing good to be seen as good is useless at best, and detestable at worst.

In our times a very similar and troubling practice is 'performative activism.'

"One example of performative activism is when Emma Watson posted a black image for "Black Lives Matter" (BLM) on her Instagram account but altered it to appear similar to her "style" and serve her own purposes. Another example includes celebrities posting images of themselves "protesting," but are actually just photo ops." (via

Really allyship and activism requires more than showing up to take selfies at a protest, and it certainly isn't found is selling branded shirts that say 'Black Lives Matter.' It requires continuous self-evaluation, learning, and effort. It should be done thoughtfully in ways that de-center ourselves and center instead the people impacted by bigotry and white supremacy.  

"[An ally is s]omone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for Justice. Allies understand that is is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways. Allies are not self-declared; they are in relationship with and accountable to oppressed people." — OpenSource Leadership Strategies

It needs to be emblazoned on the minds of white progressives everywhere: "Allies are not self-declared"!