The last two years of Covid-19, Karens, and police brutality have taxed Indigenous, Black and other people of colour to the nth degree. But it is these very crises that represent the wake-up call so many people of colour have yearned and worked for all their lives. A vortex to justice has opened, and there is no time to waste; we must push for complete racial justice across every system and institution in our society. But the truth is, some of our white colleagues are about to get left behind for not adequately preparing to level up.
Knowing Is Not Enough: On the Performance of Allyship
White people: it’s time to rip the flesh tone Band Aid off and let you know that it is absolutely too late and wholly inadequate for you to be an ally. At this moment in history, as we move to abolish racism, you can either be an accomplice, or you can get out of the way. If you can see yourself or your actions in any of the below, you have fallen into the trap of allyship. It’s time to move aside and let us do the real work, or move forward, get your hands dirty, and get involved.
Allyship is using anti-racism as a noun or an identity, a destination with a start and stop point that you get to.
Allyship is a forced imposition without consent. It is an assumed entitlement to impose a relationship upon those you claim to be an ally with.
Allyship is putting on a show, a performative gesture only practised when eyes and cameras are looking your way.
Allyship is when you are more focussed on performance than efficacy. It’s making sure everyone knows you ‘showed’ support.
Allyship is when you see being called out as a threat, failure is a sign of weakness to you, and being called out is not a call to action, but a call to condemnation.
Allyship is when you push the guilt of your privilege onto POC’s, forcing them to assuage it and centring your own insecurities.
Allyship is refusing to acknowledge your own place and complicity in the systems that perpetuate white supremacy and the oppression of POC’s.
Allyship is considering it integral to your personality.
Allyship is only caring about the death of Indigenous people in custody when African Americans are routinely murdered by police in America.
Allyship is only caring about African Americans murdered by the police in the US when Indigenous people are routinely murdered here.
Allyship is only caring when an influencer you follow posts about it.
Allyship is posting a black square on Instagram.
Allyship is using the black live matter hashtag on Instagram with said black square, drowning out any actually useful information.
Allyship is assuming that POC’s need a saviour.
Allyship centres white privilege, allowing for endless breaks for white comfort.
Allyship is a ‘check the box’, an automatic action taken when you’re unwilling to do any real work.
Allyship is abandoning the cause when it doesn’t suit you.
Allyship is asking your non-white friends for resources on “how to be a good ally”.
Allyship is falling into the trap of whiteness and expecting POC’s to educate and prove themselves.
Allyship is predicated on guilt, shame, and an unconscious desire to make another community’s struggle your own therapy session.
Allyship is saying an acknowledgement of Country, and then that’s it, let’s move on.
Allyship is starting a book club when POCs are suffering. It’s thinking solely in the abstract and ignoring the discomfort of examining the pain you’ve personally caused.
Allyship is protesting police killings and calling for defunding the police, but not challenging the injustices in housing, schools, social and professional networks, the defunding of nonwhite organisations, the lack of POCs in management positions, or the microaggressions and slights that happen at dinner parties, restaurants, cafes, concerts and on the streets we walk everyday.
Allyship has left this country, and many other so-called ‘developed nations’, locked in an ouroboros where POCs relive an endless loop of injustice and white people continually revisit the same performative gestures—a show that never closes.
White people, you have had plenty of time to perform your gestures. Now get your hands dirty.
The acknowledgement of justice, humanity and freedom for POC’s won’t be found in signs, statements of solidarity or book clubs. It won’t be found in ‘unlearning’ oppression, it will be found in your willingness to pick up a hammer and smash it to fucking pieces, to destroy the systems that stand in our way, whether at your job, your social network, your neighbourhood, your family, or your home. It’s about investing in our voices and in our businesses, education, political representation, power, housing and art. It starts, also, with confronting the harm you have probably caused to POCs. Making up for past wrongs means starting with the fact that you’ve done wrong in the past, perhaps without realising, in your workplace, neighbourhood, classroom—maybe even the book club.
To be an accomplice is to commit to direct action. It means understanding your own privileges and how you have benefited from a system that has only created systemic injustices for those who didn’t fit the white mould. It means not being motivated by personal guilt or shame. It means using your own privileged positions in your workplaces, neighbourhoods or classrooms to confront, unsettle and destroy the barriers put up to limit POCs.
I know that it can be maddening wading through the sometimes contradictory advice on what white people should do. To be told to ‘step up’,‘no, step back’, ‘read’,‘no, listen’, ‘protest’, don't protest’, ‘check on your non-white friends’, ‘leave us alone’, ‘ask for help’ or ‘do the work’—it can be exhausting at times. And yet, you’ll figure it out. POCs have been similarly exhausted making the case for jobs, freedom, happiness, justice, equality and the like. It’s dizzying, but we’ve managed to find the means to walk straight.
White people: we need accomplices, not allies. To stay content in your comfort and privilege is to actively hold us back. So here’s your call to action. Pick up your hammers, and destroy every form of oppression that exists—from systems, organisations, and institutions, to your very own thoughts and behaviours. Don’t just have our backs, be at our side as we confront racism and injustice. The lines of oppression are already drawn. Direct action is the best and only way of being an accomplice.
We’re in a fight, so be ready for confrontation and consequence.
Adrian Fernandez is an architectural worker whose interests lie in interrogating the many divides and biases that lie within the architectural profession, through speculative projects, writings and general rants. He currently works for Monash University as a Design Studio Leader and has worked for several large architectural firms in Melbourne.