White allies: I have a question for you - Generocity Philly

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Jan. 2, 2020 8:29 am

White allies: I have a question for you

Being informed and "taking it personally" is what moves us into the space of becoming anti-racist, says columnist Andrew Huff.

What's love got to do with racial justice work?

(Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels)

Editor’s note: Andrew Huff started submitting guest columns for publication consideration in the fall of last year, shortly after we ran our racial equity series of stories. His first piece was about the practices at emergency shelters viewed through the lens of racial equity — and it was really thought-provoking. Subsequent guest columns — some personal reflections, others deeply researched analysis of the power dynamics in emergency shelters — have been equally compelling. His columns have been shared by other nonprofit professionals who, whether they agree with his conclusions or not, appreciate his perspective on redefining practices while working from within. We have asked Andrew to become a regular columnist at Generocity this year. This is his first post of 2020 in this new role.


Several years ago, I began doing the work to go from being a white man who identified as “not-racist” to being one who identified as “anti-racist.”

To me, being “not-racist” meant: “Oh wow, racism is just awful isn’t it? I would never be friends with someone, you know, racist.” But being “anti-racist” meant: “I commit to educating myself about racism. I commit to educating other white people about racism. I commit to proactively confronting racism in myself, in others, and in the systems and institutions around me.”

I began reading the books, listening to the lectures, studying the facts and figures. I began to figure this stuff out. I became informed.

“I became informed.”

Doesn’t that sound so dry? Well, that’s also how it felt. I had acquired a decent intellectual understanding of race and racism, which meant I knew how to talk like an anti-racist — but I didn’t feel like one.

So I kept reading. I thought maybe what I needed was more information — and there was plenty more to read. The more I read, the more informed I became. At a certain point, I realized I knew how to talk confidently like an anti-racist — but I still didn’t quite feel like one. I started to think that maybe anti-racism would be a “fake it ‘til you make it” kind of experience, or that I would reach some intellectual tipping point and magically become “Andrew, the Anti-Racist.” But until then, I’d just have to keep reading.

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My thinking on the matter changed when I had the experience of dating and falling in love with a Black man. What I realize now is that the experience of loving a Black man has mattered more than the books, the lectures, the articles, the interviews — all of it. So much so that I wonder whether the books, the lectures, the articles, the interviews — as important as they are — were actually necessary, or if they might have been a slick way for me as a white person to intellectualize, a way to become informed without becoming engaged.

Because here’s the thing: You can read a lot of books, you can know a lot of facts, you can know all the right words to use — but have you ever loved a Black person? Have you?

I’m very purposeful about my use of the word “love” here. I am not talking about what it means to acknowledge Black people, appreciate Black people, like Black people, enjoy Black people, protect Black people, uplift Black people, bless Black people, admire Black people, or desire Black people — because you can acknowledge, appreciate, like, enjoy, protect, uplift, bless, admire, and desire a Black person without necessarily loving them.

There is a gulf between these things, just as there is a gulf between being “not-racist” and being “anti-racist.”

In fact, I have found that it is very easy for people who identify as white allies to say they acknowledge, appreciate, like, enjoy, protect, uplift, bless, admire, and desire Black people. But I have found that it is not so easy for people who identify as white allies to say they love and have loved a Black person — and I wonder why that is. I wonder, too, what white peoples’ racial justice work might look like if that weren’t the case.

For example, in my own experience, being an informed white man in America meant that I consciously recognized the issues of mass incarceration, police brutality, and white supremacy. Being an informed white man who cared about Black men, women, and children meant that I took the issues of mass incarceration, police brutality, and White supremacy seriously. But loving a Black man meant that I started to take them personally.

I take them personally not just in the sense that as a white person I am historically implicated in these practices. I take them personally not just in the sense that as a white person I am responsible to do something about them now. I take them personally in the sense that they degrade, torture, maim, and kill the men who have mentored me. The men who have enriched my life. The men who have protected me. The men whose hands I have held. The men I have kissed. The men I have loved.

“Being informed” is like being “not-racist.” It not necessarily “bad.” It’s just insufficient. Being informed and taking it personally is what moves us into the space of becoming “anti-racist.”

When I am informed about mass incarceration and take it personally, I find it intolerable and I commit to doing what I can from where I am to abolish it.

When I am informed about police brutality and take it personally, I find it intolerable and I commit to doing what I can from where I am to abolish it.

When I am informed about white supremacy and take it personally, I find it intolerable and I commit to doing what I can from where I am to abolish it.

Loving a Black man, taking this stuff personally, doesn’t mean my work as a white ally is done. It actually commits me more deeply to the work of racial justice.

So speaking to those of you who also consider yourselves white allies in the struggle for racial justice: I’m asking you to consider very specifically and very seriously whether you have loved a Black person. And, if you have, to consider how that affects your racial justice work.

And if you haven’t, to notice that — and consider what impact it has on your racial justice work, or how you understand race, racism, and racial justice.

I want you to consider the possibility that perhaps the most important thing you can do next in your racial justice work is not reading another book, not attending another dialogue, not signing another petition, but loving a Black man, loving a Black woman, loving a Black child.

Facts and figures and books inform, but they have no warmth. They cannot hold your hand. They cannot laugh with you, cannot kiss you, cannot love you.  I want you to be informed, but I also want you to take it personally.

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