"Oh, boy--oppression," my white student says loud enough for me to hear. The class starts laughing--black and brown alike but white is the loudest. One of my Ecuadorian, female students looks at me with smirk she doesn't yet understand, and I see a version of the old me in her confusion. My other white students chime in, "poor triangle, he's dealing with two different strands of oppression." We are in the middle of a teacher guided do-now. I look at the wall clock- It's 1:25pm. Under the clock, my teacher mentor sits, slouched, arms crossed, relaxed, male, white. My white, female co-teacher hurries from desk to desk working to put out the fire individually. My ears begin to ring. I swallow so hard my ear drums pull the sides of my head. "5,4,3,2,1--In conclusion, intersectionality is the idea that a single person can be oppressed or kept down in a multitude of ways varying from gender, race, sexual orientation, amongst other things." My co-teacher takes over to transition us into the lesson's main activity reading articles with different perspectives on the Women's March. I walk towards the door, my face melting, my ears boiling, my eyes burning. The 5 steps to the door seem eternal.
I step into the single bathroom grateful that no one has spotted me as I leaped from the classroom here. The light is on. The mirror is the first thing I see. My curly fro in a perfect halo surrounds my hair, my brown skin glows with my new trial size highlight. I hold on to the porcelain, white sink and break down. I want to scream but my principal's office is too close, the main office is just outside the door. I yell into myself. Love for self, love for others doesn't mean others will reciprocate the same sentiments. I've been gone for a minute now. I dab my eyes, I stand up straight, and go back into the classroom. I crouch down at the side of my students' desks, and serve as a scaffold to the article's claim--the author argues that Women of Color, like herself, felt excluded from the Women's March. They don't understand. They don't get it. Why? They went with their mothers. They went with their feminist fathers. They felt included. I tell them to keep their opinions out of this for now because the task doesn't ask them to consider it, but I'll be happy to listen after class.
No one comes to me to apologize for not stepping in the next day. On the contrary, I have to go to them--insist on a sit down. As I finish my sentence, my female co-teacher apologizes. She says she was trying to calm students down as best she could. My mentor teacher looks surprised. He reddens like a tomato, rubs his chin, crosses his arms says in a long exhale, "Yeahhhhhhhhhh,"like he gets it. I tell him he should've used his white male privilege at the moment to be the ally he claims to be. I cannot distance myself from moments that have everything to do with my existence. He claims he didn't want to take my power...totally oblivious to the fact that by sitting in his silence he did more than just take it, he used it. He goes into a speech on how he doesn't understand the white students--he grew up a Quaker, in a town with friends of color--it never made a difference. The conversation somehow becomes about his grandmother surviving the Holocaust and coming to the United States and being grateful that a Black man was who taught her how to use a pay phone. Class is starting, the conversation ends, apology or empathy never arrived. The next day two of the students who joined in the mockery of oppression tell me people of color are using oppression bragging rights now, like badges of honor. I try to explain, but they cut me off and say white people have problems too. "My mom has cancer, and my dad is a scumbag," one of them says. I want to say that barriers exists for people of color inside and outside the consideration of health and marriage. Instead I apologize for her struggling parents. I say we have to get into the novel now. I decide to read Julia Alvarez's words out loud--pronounce the Spanish words like they aren't in italics, like Spanish has always been my language, like it is a thing in that room belongs to people like me because I say so.
The past year has made me aware that we, the marginal, need white people. Not need in the sense of having them jump into their "hero" role--we don't need no saving. But we need them to partake in the effort to rid us ALL of oppression. We cannot afford to have white people sit this out. When we speak about white privilege, they have to engage in the conversation. When there is a demonstration of racism, they should be disrupting it on the spot; that is what a decent white ally would do. Some time ago I believed that we alone could change the minds of the white folks who are filled with values cling to white supremacy and patriarchy. But we know that our melanin, our hair, our accents do nothing to repair the thought process of middle America. The privilege right now lies in white skin. Although that idea hurts every day, this is something we must succumb to and accept in order to heal universally. A true ally will adhere to this and find ways to educate those who cannot respect our humanity. In this case, our stories cannot come from us-- they must trickle down into the tongues of our true white allies, who will hopefully guide the folks that can't see us, can't stand the sight of us, can't lean off our their privilege for a second, to a gentler light.
But there is always the Afrocentric argument in the back of my mind: we don't need white people. If we create our own communities--our own schools, our own jobs, our own banks, etc--we could find a way. Yet, further separation will only lead to further segegation in all parts of our communities. This solution is not sustainable for the kind of world we all hope to live in some day. The future of our world calls for unity, and to continue in the path of segregation will enliven what we already have today, what we have already seen. We must heal together.
The problem is that there are so few DOWN AF, REAL AF white allies. Allies don't just self proclaim they're allies. DOWN AF, REAL AF white allies are actively and consistently decolonizing and dismantling system of oppressions because it is THEIR responsibility. It does not matter that they're family did not directly have a hand at the benefit of sugar cane and cotton plantations because they reap the rewards rewards every day making them privileged thus responsible. To benefit from systems of oppressions is to maintain them; therefore, the white ally card is costly and time consuming--it is what it is. An ally recognizes this and works.
I've met three white allies in my 26 years of life that were truly advocating on my behalf. These people did not brag about their love for my culture, did not mention the number of friends of color they have, did not take the time to list the Black people they've loved, did not say they acknowledge my rights to later control the way I went about using them. My first ally was my high-school principal, who came from generations of privilege but created a school to empower my peers and I in the Bronx. She acted like a fly on the wall in our communities yet she did an extensive amount of work for it. My second ally was my writing teacher, who refused to change my C's into A's until I dug deep and used my own voice in my writing, who later wrote me a recommendation that helped get me into my reach school. The third is the director of my program who pointed out she couldn't relate to any of the struggles I expressed, but she believed me and supported any way I wanted to go about advocating in an oppresive situation that could have cost the program. The white allies I have listed have listened, and gone back up into the ivory tower and come back with tools people like me would've never gotten otherwise to pave our own way into areas of power. Those are the allies people who the oppressed can benefit from.
An ally cannot be someone who says they see the power in us, and then turns around and says marginalized students aren't academically successful because they don't read. An ally is not someone who goes to the Women's March but never shows up to a Black Lives Matter event. An ally isn't someone who asks you to believe in their good intentions and then makes the environment uncomfortable. An ally is not the person who does the least expecting you to be grateful. An ally does not sit and recount the way racism and oppression work to a person who is living in those very states. An is not the person who mopped and/ or cried anywhere near a person of color the day after the election. An ally does not hang onto religion to claim they can't be racist--even if it was a "joke". An ally is not someone who says they love hip hop but will try to make you defend the way it ignites the people it was created for. An ally does not let you play at the foot of their door and then turn you away when their parents call out for dinner. An ally does not call you "exotic" and then use you as non-racist pass. An ally does not listen to the frustration of students of color, and then say the students of color are lucky not to go to schools with metal detectors.
Distinguish carefully. It's rough out there. You must look under their masks. True allieship is few and far between, but it comes through...at least that's what I hope.