Ally Implies Action: #BlackLivesMatter

In general, I keep the posts on this blog directly connected to training, fat acceptance, and/or body positivity in some way or another.

However, in the wake of the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the many arrests that were made in my once-and-future hometown of Rochester, NY following a peaceful protest (including the arrests of two reporters and several people who were not protesting but who made the mistake of being near a protest while Black, as witnessed by several of my friends), I feel called to write a post that is overtly focused on the Black Lives Matter liberation movement.

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Rochester, NY #BlackLivesMatter protest on July 8, 2016 (Photo credit: Jay Rowe)

Because I believe Black people and non-Black POC when they speak about their experiences with racism.

Because I believe that no rational person would deny the existence of white privilege.

(If you’re actually still on the fence about this matter, check out the information here, herehere, hereherehere, herehere, hereherehere, herehere, herehere, herehere, here, herehere, here, here, here, and in many other places by opening your eyes and paying attention.)

Posting about this so directly goes against one of the tenets of traditional personal training etiquette guidelines, which encourage trainers to remain more or less politely silent and uncommitted in regards to matters related to politics and religion in public and online… but fuck that. That’s not me, and it never has been.

Allies Aren’t Passive

I have come to believe quite strongly that someone doesn’t become an ally to a community that faces oppression by simply believing in their own minds that members of that community are spiffy.

No: being an ally takes action. It takes speaking out, changing behaviors, and taking risks. It involves an intentional effort towards using one’s privilege to bring about healing change for others.

I can speak personally about the degree to which the active allyship of men, straight people, and cisgender people matters to women and members of the LGBTQQAI communities. Because of my own understanding of the value of allies who deserve the label, I am committed to acknowledging the areas where I have societal privilege and to be the best ally that I know how to be… and to be continually willing to become a better ally when I learn more, to never think that I have this ally thing all figured out.

I support without hesitation the guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement. Don’t know what they are? Click the link above and learn.

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Perhaps you’re even a little unclear about what, exactly, Black Lives Matter is all about. On the same link shown above for the #BlackLivesMatter guiding principles, the movement is succinctly described: “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

Also check out this page about common misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter movement.

But Don’t Just Listen to Me

One of the first things that I’ve learned about being an ally is that I shouldn’t let my voice overshadow the voices of those to whom I am allied, but that I should instead use my position of privilege to amplify the voices of those who are most affected. My experiences and feelings as a white person are not as relevant in the conversation about racism as the experiences and feelings of people of color.

As such, I would like to recommend the following blogs, posts, and articles by people who aren’t me:

This is not an all-inclusive list of articles that are worth reading. My suggestion to you all (but especially to white Americans) is this: seek out more. Open your mind and your ears to the experiences and words of others.

Speak Out and Act

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Source: Arlyn Montas D’Oleo’s public Fb post. (If this is not the original source and you have info about what is, please let me know!)

My understanding of my role as an ally for Black people is largely to:

  • listen to their experiences: it is not the appropriate role of an ally to dictate or reframe what the discussion should be to fit my understanding of the world,
  • to actively seek out information on my own about racism and inequality (and not to rely on POC to explain it to me),
  • to allow Black people to define the problem and the methods for moving towards a solution,
  • to be willing to be uncomfortable by what I learn along the way, and to admit when I make mistakes or take missteps,
  • to recognize any feelings of defensiveness that arise so that I can deal with them rather than acting or speaking out of them,
  • to allow my participation to result from a sincere desire to help, not from a desire to get an “Attaboy” from the Black community (after all, any expectation of such acknowledgement or applause is patronizing and arises from the belief that doing nothing more than acting the way that a decent human being should act in the face of oppression somehow deserves special recognition),
  • to support Black-owned businesses whenever possible (Rochester, NY has a directory of Black-owned businesses here; check to see if there’s one where you live!),
  • and to call out white people when they say or do something either subtly or overtly racist and/or deny the existence of racism and white privilege.

And to do that last part vigilantly.

Sometimes, it’s exhausting. One of the side effects of white privilege is that I have been able to go through all too much of my life all too unaware of the degree of racism and willful ignorance that exists in present-day America….

That is, until social media activism became more organized and information about the plethora of injustices and acts of violence against POC became more widely and quickly spread. One side effect is that I am becoming aware of the perspectives of many of the people who I’ve known through the years and who I’m connected to through Facebook; all too often, I am disheartened, angered, and saddened by what I see.

Each time I see something that needs to be called out, I do so; the same goes when I hear something said in public. My comments are not always responded to well; sometimes, they are ignored, and other times they are responded to with hostility and/or are dismissed or mocked.

When this happens, it is clear that my energy would not be used productively by continuing the conversation, so I don’t: as Thomas Paine once said, “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead.”

Other times, though, questions arise and conversations grow. These are the moments when it is necessary for me to engage fully in the conversation, communicating as skillfully as possible and directing people to more information than I have to offer personally. It is my hope that, by doing so, I will inspire other people to become allies, too.

If this process of calling people out is exhausting for me, I can only imagine how much more so it must be for Black people and non-Black POC.

If I sometimes receive hostility or dismissal of my comments, I can only imagine how it must feel to be subjected to the hostility and dismissal that inevitably flow from a society steeped in racial inequality.

It comes down to this: I don’t know, but I do care.

But caring about something without doing anything is as hollow as someone saying I love you but otherwise ignoring and neglecting you.

Being an ally involves action, effort, and risk. I don’t do it perfectly… but I don’t take it lightly, either.

What are you doing to act as an ally to others? We are all in this together: let’s not forget that.

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