We are not meant to live life alone.
Not meant to stay isolated
Not meant to fly solo.
Created to love
Created to enjoy the embrace of others
Created diverse and unique
Each one encompasses beauty unlike another.
We were created to care.
To look out for one another
And support one another.
To be an ally is as difficult as it is to be a lover.
Passion, patience, forgiving
One another is key.
One for ALL
Not only a select few.
“All Together” by Melva Lowry written 9/27/2020
Many people have begun to head to the polls to vote. Some will wait until November 3rd to cast their votes. Today is a great time to talk about what it means to be an ally. Voting is one of the biggest ways people show their alliance and allyship. As with my previous article, much has shifted my thoughts since beginning to think about this topic of allyship.
A fly sparked national commentary during the Vice Presidential debate. A simple house fly ignited my thoughts about how to start the conversation around White Allies. The fly represents the spark it takes to get folks engaged. For those who missed it, during the topic around racial justice, Vice President Mike Pence was speaking and a fly noticeably rested on his head. For several minutes even as the topic changed the fly remained. Social media exploded as many people thought the fly was on their screens at home. Journalists after the debate even mentioned the fly and its steadfastness on Pence’s head. The memes that followed depict for me what white allyship looks like.
My poem above states how I see and understand the role of being an ally no matter your race. However, I often feel conflicted about the role of White allies. The debate commentary metaphorically represents what it looked like to me. Something so small and simple, a fly, sparks commentary and a flood of response. Oftentimes, I feel like it takes a small moment to get White people to finally realize the larger picture. Once the larger picture is realized there is a flood of social media commentary and memes posted to their pages. Likes and shares go up and after a while it stops.
Many black people have been killed, but for some reason it took the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to spark one of the largest mass outcries from White people since the 2016 inauguration that resulted in pink hats flooding the streets. I know that there have been white people showing up in the Dakotas to help our Indigenous siblings stand against the oil pipeline. I know that there have been white people traveling to the borders to pray with captives and speak against the atrocities happening to migrants and immigrants. I know white people have spoken up for many black deaths over the years.
It is the increased number of white allies and outrage that has caught my attention. I think my hesitation to pat the back of white allies stems from my suspension surrounding their intentions and sincerity. For too long the attention span of white allies is limited to popularity. As long as it is trending allies are here for the fight. Some of this hesitation comes from living in the South too long. I often tell people the one thing about the South is we do not hide our true feelings. The work must get done and we come together to do it, but when completed it’s back to the segregated corners. Like the days of Jim Crow, the South was blatant about its feelings towards equality and justice for non-whites, THEY WEREN’T HAVING IT!
You knew pointedly who was for you and who was against you. Today, it looks like a time in my Senior Seminar class at Columbia Theological Seminary. We went to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum in downtown Atlanta. It was a day to think about race. Before heading to dinner we gathered as a class of soon to be graduates in ministry to discuss our response to the museum. The direct question was asked how we would introduce these topics on racial injustice into our new jobs, congregations, preachings, etc. A few classmates, who have spoken to me in supportive outrage over some of the injustices that occurred during our time at Columbia, spoke with hesitation and fear about bringing the topic of racial injustice into their positions. They were honest about their fears of it influencing their families income and their own ability to find jobs. In short, they know that race is a problem and that injustices happen, but the risk to their position and ability to live was not worth the risk.
This sentiment around situational or conditional allyship can be summed up in one statement spoken by ‘Edith’, a black female character in the Netflix movie Enola Holmes. (Spoiler alert) She states, “You don’t know what it is to be without power…” to Sherlock Holmes who responds, “Why not?” She continues, “because you have no interest in changing a world that suits you so well.” Take note that Edith was a black woman who was approached on her job by Sherlock Holmes in search of his missing sister. He knew she was aware of Enola’s whereabouts and demanded that he was trying to find her so that justice could be served.
This quick conversation between Sherlock and Edith speaks volumes and depth about allyship and whiteness in the world. It speaks to the situations and conditions that draw people together for a cause. Allyship is difficult and delicate. The most “liberal” or justice minded person regards their stake as an ally as vital to their identity. Most white allies however, still do not understand how they maintain the power dynamic in the world, nor realize the space they continue to consume. White allies often have some story that portrays their alignment to the marginalized or sparked their journey to justice. What Edith was telling Sherlock Holmes is that his quest to seek justice is not tied up in creating an equal or level playing field for all. That there was no way for one who benefits from the power dynamic in the world to truly understand what it means to lack justice. White allies still have whiteness.
As white people head to the polls, the test of your allyship hangs in the balance. There were Republicans who did vote across party lines in the 2016 election for a myriad of reasons. It is now time to make those reasons known. Was it for justice? Was it to finally see the focus on women’s rights taken seriously? Was it for the ideals and impact of what it would mean for white women to have had a white woman in the highest position in America? Basically, let your intentions be known and sincere. Not just white women, but all allies.
This fight towards justices and equality for all is long. It takes transparency. I too understand the difficulty to fully express one’s personal interests when it comes to being an ally. My allyship for LBTQIA+ issues is situated in my own hesitation to express my own sexuality. So, do not feel condemned if your reasons are personal, we now know where you stand and what motivates you. No win happens without the support of diverse people, talents and interests. Allyship is as foundational as the creation story. It is a relationship that is fragile and requires constant tending. It requires trusting that God is with us and instrumental in bringing people together. This election is more important than ever. God guide us and protect us these next few months and into 2021.
Melva Lowry is a candidate for ordination in the PC(USA). She’s a ruling elder in the Greater Atlanta Presbytery at Rice Memorial. Mel holds 3 Masters from 2 PCUSA affiliated seminaries. She recently served as one of the Hands and Feet Fellows for the 224th General Assembly.