The Uncomfortable Truth About White Allyship
I’m a white woman who writes about race. I’m not always sure if I should be writing about race, or if I’m doing it “right.” Every time I finish a story that draws from my partner’s experiences as a Black man navigating an often hostile white world, I find myself holding my breath when I click the “Publish” button.
I’m trying to speak up for my partner and the many other Black Americans who share facets of his experience. But the line between speaking up for and speaking for can be a delicate one. I’m never sure if and when I’ve inadvertently crossed it.
Of course, I always read my partner my stories before publishing them, but we have our own language when it comes to talking about racial issues, informed by years of context and a shared well of stories. As my cursor lingers over the “Publish” button, I sometimes ask myself, if a stranger reads this, will I come across as too familiar? Am I making assumptions about the so-called “Black experience” based on one Black person I happen to know very well? Do I come across as that obnoxious white person who’s trying too hard? Am I merely centering my own voice while casting myself as an ally?
But I continue to write about these issues for a very simple reason, which I hate to admit, and which I also know to be true: White people are more likely to listen to me. They are more likely to see themselves in me, and therefore more likely to trust me. Once they see my profile photo, they are probably more likely to click on my story.
I not only look white, I also “speak white.” When my partner was applying to college and graduate school, I suggested that he write about his hardships as a child and young adult in his college and graduate admissions essays. There’s nothing white people love more than a story of a Black child from the “hood” who has overcome steep odds. It vindicates our version of America as a place where anyone can make it if they just try hard enough. Or where anyone can make it if they have a white savior or two in their corner.
I knew the white admissions officers would eat it up. I was right.
My partner spent his last semester in graduate school doing fieldwork at a nonprofit that…