Tom Hastings, long time activist and Conflict Resolution instructor at Portland State University, discusses the role of the “white ally” in events involving people of color.
I appreciate Tom’s take on White allyship (this is Daniel speaking). There are a couple of things I would like to add. I fully support the approach of being more of a listener than a leader. Of course, listening can be a way of leading (eg. leading other Whites to be better listeners). But I know Tom was referring to taking a lead in decision-making. I have found there are rare moments when it is important to speak up because I am White. Some (possibly Tom) will disagree with me on this, but when I see serious conflict between two Black leaders – particularly if one is abusing the other (which was the case with the local NAACP Branch a few years ago), I believe it is important to voice my dissent. In that particular case, a group of us organized for more than a year to see that leader removed from office. Following the direction of a corrupt leadership was not an option for me. It became important for me to know my position, and to act on it, apart from what that Black leader was telling me.
Additionally (and I believe Tom would support me on this), it is ultimately not my call to determine whether or not I am an ally. It is up to the members of the community I am serving to identify me as such. Just as it carries little weight for me to confidently pronounce that “I’m not a jerk”, ultimately that determination is more trusted if it comes from the people who interact with me.
Finally, in the years since this video was produced, there has been some inevitable shifting/refining of meaning surrounding the term “ally” in U.S. American culture. For some, it has taken on a pejorative connotation of passivity, rather than one of full engagement that true anti-racist work requires. I tend to favor the terms “accomplice” or “co-conspirator” as they imply a more proactive involvement with communities of color.