The Personal Cost of Allyship and Ethics
I’m realizing that to be an effective ally, you have to be willing to make a sacrifice on behalf of the people you are siding with. And sometimes — that’s hard.
At the risk of sharing a story that doesn’t put me in the best light, here goes:
I remember sitting in an NYC cab on my way to a conference. I had chosen to fly in the morning of the conference to save on staying in a hotel the night before (because NYC hotels be expensive — especially in Manhattan). I was already gonna be an hour late, not even factoring in morning traffic from LaGuardia to the pier.
I soon discovered that my taxi driver was racist. But it wasn’t towards Blacks. When he drove through Chinatown I asked if there were any cool restaurants here that he’d recommend. He said that the whole section of town was just “garbage”. I later found out he was a Trump supporter (surprise). I spoke very little during the whole ride. I did nothing. I said nothing.
Why? Because I was running late. Because I paid good money for this conference. Because I was uncomfortable. Because I was by myself in the backseat of a car with a man I didn’t know. Because I didn’t know what to do. Because I was a foreign Black woman alone in a large, unfamiliar city in America. But mostly because I was scared.
In retrospect, allyship and anti-racist action might have meant asking to get out of the cab and taking another one, arriving at my conference even later. Or it could have meant filing a complaint with whatever NYC taxi oversight board.
So to some extent, I get that allyship is hard and uncomfortable and may inconvenience us, but it’s the work we have to do if we are going to quash racism. Change starts one person at a time. (My apologies to the Chinese community for not being a better advocate).
When Beenie Man and Bounty Killer had their #verzuztv soundclash this summer (stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this, lol), the Jamaican Constabulary Force showed up. 500 000 people were watching the Instagram live stream — including Rihanna and the Prime Minister of Jamaica.
Beenie asked the police officer, “Do you want to be that guy?”
When advocating for others — particularly women, BIPOC, LGBTQ2SIA+, and people with disabilities — you will have to be “that guy.” And it’s hella uncomfortable. But it’s the right thing to do.
You will have to be “that guy” who ruins the party.
You will have to be “that guy” who killed the vibe.
You will have to be the guy who “can’t take a joke”.
You might be the guy who sacrifices his safety like the good Samaritan.
Or the guy who loses his life (Google Rev. James Reeb).
So yes — post the blackout pics. But realize a post is not action. Realize that you might be called upon to sacrifice your comfort and stick your neck out for people. It’ll be awkward. It will be uncomfortable. Sometimes it’ll be clumsy. You may be inconvenienced. And sometimes no one else will know what you did — but that’s allyship.