The Sleep-Walking White Ally

by Jasmine M. Pulido

I filled out a survey asking me if I’ve experienced racism firsthand.

I almost laughed. I replied into the text box, “Where do I even start?” 

I wanted to reply with the shorthand, “TMTM” (“Too Many to Mention”) like you would in high school, but with an entirely different connotation. Instead, I started to list them as succinctly as possible to get a real handle of what this looked like on paper. This was only for experiences at my daughters’ predominantly white school as a parent of color. There are more outside of it (#ManyMore #TooManyToMention).

The survey brought it all up again. 

Actually, I wouldn’t say it brought it all up. It was brought up about three weeks ago when the BLM protests started to happen. Not because of the need to center my own Non-Black experience, but because of the huge upsurge of white friends becoming suddenly vocal about racism. My BIPOC friends and I ask ourselves a parade of reflexive rage-questions:

“What about that time you wouldn’t let me speak?”

“What about the time you watched and did nothing?”

“What about all the times you didn’t believe me?”

With that swell of memories comes feelings of resentment, pain, and invisibility. More feelings than that. Too many to mention.

We wonder to ourselves if our white folks have any real understanding of how they too have perpetuated racism against us, BIPOC folks they share personal space with on a regular basis. 

Maybe “wonder” is too strong a word here. We know they don’t know how they are part of the problem. Those of us who have developed a strong racial lens can see clearly how our white folks are subconsciously complicit with the same system they are rallying to tear down. They are committing acts of racism now by speaking over Black activists, devaluing them in social interactions, or hi-jacking the message entirely. They just don’t know it.

White allies seem to think that once they stand up for Black lives that they are now on the “us” side of “us vs. them.” Hate to break it to you, white folks — that’s not how it works. If all you feel is exhilarated to stand by them, you’re doing it wrong. If all you feel is angry enough to yell at other white folks not as woke as you, you’re doing it wrong. Real white allies become humble at full recognition of their own complicity. Real white accomplices harbor fear because they know what real risks they will need to take to create a more equitable system. They finally understand the advantages that they’ll have to give up, the ones they shouldn’t have had to begin with, to dismantle white supremacy, and they’re feeling stunned by this dark, loaded reality. When we say “do the work,” they comprehend that “the work” isn’t a fun book club or a few vocal social media posts. The work is hard, grueling, and tiring. It is a long commitment that will very likely outlive their lifetime.

The real work happens after the protests end. 

It’s as if white folks are working in the daytime to fill the hole that the system dug for People of Color to die in. When they go to bed though, they sleep-walk back out to the hole, pick up the shovel, and start digging. Many of our white allies have one fist in the air battle-crying on the front lines of protest, but in their other hand, they are holding a shovel and digging our graves when they retire for the evening. These well-intentioned white allies are digging deeper in their sleep than they are filling when they are “awake.” They’re doing more harm than good. They just don’t know it.

Once white folks carefully examine their own actions, they catch themselves sleep-walking. Now their privilege becomes their shovel, a tool they use to intentionally fill the hole back up. They no longer use the shovel to beat the guilt out of themselves. They use it with purpose now, dropping the handle down and pulling People of Color out of their graves. They use it to hit the alarm that rudely awakens other sleep-walkers. They recognize their own complicity and, in doing so, they truly understand how reversing its direction is their greatest power.

Now, instead of getting in the way of Black activists, they are truly working for Black people by taking actions that prioritize centering Black activists thoughts and feelings. Non-Black People of Color need to do that same work too, myself included, to be aligned in real Black solidarity. It is only then that we can turn our focus to the bigger problem as a larger force — the people who purposely uphold and create the system. The white dominators at the top of the system who are pushing us all down. 

Explicit racism is easy to see and yet it’s taken us this long to bring this new tsunami of outrage. I surmise that white folks think this is the end of a long fight to finish what the Civil Rights Movement started. But the truth is the safety Blives is the BARE MINIMUM to the start of undoing all the racism that white America still contains within it. My BIPOC friends and I brace ourselves for what happens next. Will our white co-workers come back to work and continue to dismiss us? Will they again commit more racial microaggressions against us? Will they continue to do the work to finally see the myriad of ways they gaslight us?

The protests will pave the way towards systemic policy change, but we need to examine our own internalized racism to uproot the source of the system’s creation — implicit racial bias.  When the protests end, the real work starts. It is when we will see which of our white folks (and Non-Black People of Color too) are serious about their commitment for racial justice. It is when we bring our attention to the deeper, internal work necessary for sustainable, long-lasting racial progress. I’m typically an optimist and yet I carry more skepticism than hope on how many will actually do that because of my own racialized experiences with whiteness.

I hope it’s more people than I think. Too many to mention.

Jasmine Pulido is a Filipinx American writer in Seattle, WA. You can find her blog atShameless Jas,” where she discusses all the topics people are too ashamed to talk about, alongside unapologetically airing anything else on her mind. She enjoys forest bathing, nerdy topics, and racial-social justice.

Featured image by Tim Dennell.

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