If you have to tell black people you’re an ally, you’re probably not
Real allies show and prove, not self-identify
This post was originally published on Medium on August 1, 2021.
I was getting myself prepared for a bus ride to a protest rally, but I dodged telling my boss why. I just asked for the day off and said I had some travel plans. But a deadline was looming, and she really needed me to be there for certain books to release on time. Finally I gave in and just told her the truth about the rally I was going to, the court case that was going on and why I really needed those particular days off. She immediately changed her tune, said our editorial team would be fine and off-handedly mentioned a couple of protest rallies she went to.
You could’ve heard a record scratch. My eyes widened, and I said, “Wait, what? You did what? When?”
The whole time I’d known her, I noticed how adamant she was at giving me a fair shake with this editorial team, knowing I had far less experience than the vets with a decade-plus on their resumes. I noticed that she immediately donated to a black history party we had, and she flopped down in the breakroom to sit with a bunch of black people she didn’t know and chat with us — without trying way too hard and giving us “black facts.” And I noticed I never saw “the look” in her eyes around black folks and how easily she blended in when she was around my other work friends on separate teams. (My team was all white with one Chinese lady who came in later on.) But I just didn’t see “protest march” when I thought of her.
I started drilling her with questions about Civil Rights rallies she’d gone to, and she answered my questions patiently and honestly. It is moments like these where you confirm that “invite to the BBQ” that black people will joke about when it comes to white people. She never made a big deal about being what I’d call an “ally.” She just did what she thought was right — and quietly.