When Being An Ally Means Being Quiet

This piece is a guest post by Shannon Hall-Bulzone.  It was originally posted in BuzzFeed Community: 

Learning to be silent is crucial if you want marginalized groups to consider you an ally.

“I can’t wait until Trump gets rid of you fucking faggots.”

These words were hurled at a close friend as she walked into a bathroom at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. Ten days after the election there has been no shortage of bigotry fueled attacks by those Hillary described as the “basket of deplorables.”

Well, they’re speaking up and making it known those of us who are not cis straight white men or women are unwelcome. Minorities are largely fearful, angry, and unsure if and when they’ll be on the receiving end of these attacks.

It was with these attacks in mind that I created a thread intended to be a space for people of color to heal, share their stories without intrusion, and to feel validation in a world that normalizes racism and intolerance. I shared my friend’s story and stated – “Don’t comment on this thread if you’re white. I’m sorry. I don’t want to hear your solidarity, your regret, or your apology. Too little too late, get your people and go to work – save the kind words for now because they’re empty when we are being targeted. Words and safety pins don’t fix a damn thing.

The exclusion of my white friends from this thread was inevitably ignored, and that is a problem.

Here’s why –
The words, deeds, and opinions of white people hold value simply because of who they’re coming from. But what if you’re a person who is trying to be on the side of marginalized people? You’re a “good” white person who uses your privilege to drive progress towards equity forward. So when you see ‘hey, don’t comment here white friends, this isn’t for you’ – what do you feel?

Do you think “why should I not be able to participate here, I’m not one of the bigots you’re lumping me in with, I am a good person. I agree with Black Lives Matter.”

I’m here to challenge you because having those feelings is one thing, but the inability to respect the request is a direct result of your own internalized white supremacy. When asked to remain silent so people of color can have their voices raised – your role as a “good” white person is to listen.

You need to work through your knee-jerk defensive reaction.
You need to check your privilege.
You need to confront the internalized white supremacy that has taught you that you should be included in everything you wish to be included in.

There is a time and a place for everything – that does not mean every time and every place is for everyone.

When people of color hold space for one another it is because we don’t see ourselves represented everywhere. We have to go out of our way to spend time amongst people who look like us. We have to hope that a white person will be able to amplify our voice so we can be heard; because otherwise people don’t listen.

That shit is exhausting.

Imagine having to dilute everything want to communicate. Your anger, or frustration first needs to be cleaned up, polished, wrapped up in a pretty box, and presented with a bow – to be palatable for white people. You must always find a way to communicate in a way that denies your own valid feelings, just so you’ll be heard.

Do you have any idea how demoralizing that is?

Do you have any idea how dehumanizing that is?

A quality inherent to humans – one of the things that makes us so amazing is the ability to passionately feel our emotions, and communicate those feelings with others. We share our raw, most vulnerable selves with each other to establish and maintain connections. There is an entire population of this country that is unable to unequivocally participate in this intrinsically human trait, without fear of being told we are being too loud, too angry, and too emotional. Thanks, white supremacy.

So when I say ‘white friends don’t comment’ it’s so that we as people of color can have space that isn’t dominated by whiteness. A space that isn’t catered to whiteness. A place where we can forego centering your feelings and catering to your fragility. We deserve and crave the opportunity to communicate with the full power of our own voices.

It isn’t about silencing white friends. It’s about allowing those who don’t have the stage in any other place in their life have a moment of dignity to communicate in their own words. It’s not about arguing or not wanting opposing opinions. It’s about having a spot where we can set aside the ever-present sting of white supremacy dictating how we lift up our voices.

One response to “When Being An Ally Means Being Quiet

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