Allies vs. Bystanders: The Wolves of Post-Racial America

Bystander vs. Ally

It takes much more than social media debates and attending protests to go from bystander to ally. One must openly acknowledge that racism and systemic injustice exists and then work in a calculated and ceaseless manner to help combat these societal ills.

An ally is someone whose personal commitment to fighting oppression and prejudice is reflected in the willingness to:

  1. Educate oneself about different identities and experiences,
  2. Challenge one’s own discomfort and prejudices,
  3. Learn and practice the skills of being an ally,
  4. Take action to create interpersonal, societal and institutional change.

While bystanders are blind accomplices to evil, true allies have the power to make all the difference in helping to win the war on racism. I would like to take a moment to highlight one of my favorite historic models of what it means to be an ally (aside from the black Tuskegee airmen, or the Red Tails, who are my all-time favorite examples).

Miep Gies is an ally because she hid Anne Frank, her family, and other Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Gies was Austrian by birth and moved to Amsterdam to work for Otto, a Jewish entrepreneur, as a secretary. Miep could have easily lived the life of a bystander by yielding her Austrian heritage as a tool. Instead, she made the decision to become an ally to her new friend, Otto, and his family. She even tried to help after the Franks were taken away, risking her own life and freedom by trying to bribe one of the officers who captured them; the ultimate act of selflessness. This is the same burning desire to make a change that rushed through the veins of Harriet Tubman as she returned each time to free more slaves, risking her own life and freedom. A true ally must be willing to live by and die for the cause, no matter the cost. A true ally understands that we are more than just headlines and hashtags.

“Always remember to put others’ needs before your own fears.”

Meghan Markle
Image taken during the U.S. protests proceeding the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Systemic Racism Is Real

There are people who affirm it doesn’t exist. They proclaim that their eyes “don’t see color, ” and that they’ve never been privileged as a result of their whiteness. With the racial tensions in our country being on the rise, I’ve encountered some of the most fragile concerns. For example, the ones who feel that white people today shouldn’t have to apologize for what their ancestors did so many years ago. Then of course my favorite argument of them all: blacks are more privileged than whites because of the existence of black history month, policies like affirmative action, and networks like BET.

There are also many people who believe that we are living in post-racial America and that racism is just a thing of the past, especially given the two-time election of Barack Obama. These ill-informed claims are far from the truth, to say the least. The existence of sundown towns across the USA, the achievement gap in education, wealth inequalities in our communities, and unfair prison sentencing for blacks charged with the same crime as whites are just a few examples of why we as a country are a long way from this ideal post-racist world.

I once had a friend who told me their family member was no longer racist. They told me that this person had “bottled up his ideologies to only share when among like-minded individuals. You know, the ‘in the closet’ types.” These are the same people who become doctors, teachers, HR managers, lawyers, and politicians for black people who they then attack at every given chance in a calculated, covert manner. While many whites will argue that they are not racist, I would like to argue that not enough whites are anti-racist.

“Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.”

Matthew 7:15

The Media

With the increased media coverage of police brutality nationwide and the tragic murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, the weeks to follow were filled with memorial vigils, peaceful protests, violent riots, and petitions for change.

Corporations, organizations, and celebrities began to make public statements to affirm their stance on the Black Lives Matter movement and racial injustice overall. Many of these people have done nothing more than used these tragedies as tools for marketing and raising revenue by capitalizing on the pain of our people, pulling on our emotions while we are in a heightened state to make us believe that they are truly for us. To those people, I say, “I see you.” Words without action are meaningless. It is self-serving, completely remiss, and also contributes to oppression when one ignores the struggles of others simply because these hardships or boundaries don’t apply to them. If you only speak out against racial and social injustice when there is a nationwide outcry, that is a problem. I believe that all people have a duty of care to one another. The type of awareness needed to provide duty of care to all people of color requires multicultural education, alongside direct engagement with and assistance for black and brown communities.

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