The Folly Of White Allyship In An Era Of ‘Opt-Out’ Culture
Last week, a group of Texas State University, San Marcos students walked out of class after their Anthropology professor discussed Black Lives Matter and suggested (correctly) that everyone descends from Africa, as reported by The Tab. While there are some conflicting accounts about what transpired that day, namely from the professor himself, the accounts from students suggest that there was at least some pushback about the historical origins of the human race specifically because it meant that we all come from African Diasporic peoples.
As dialogue erupted on the matter via Twitter, one user asked why there would be any argument about this fact since it is clearly true, to which another user simply responded, “cause they’re racist…?” And as I reflected on their response, I wished the answer was that simple. But it’s not.
My Professor just said all living ppl are descendants from Africa and ppl got up and walked out and now their arguing 💀💀💀 pic.twitter.com/TNj6EDmybv
— Aj (@amvrion) October 18, 2016
While the issue may seem trite, it points to a much deeper problem with addressing and teaching race in the United States. Too often, we forget that new millennials (I recently found out I am an “old” millennial), namely those who identify as White, rarely have to face the complexities of race in America. They are the most segregated educationally and residentially. They are just as racist as their parents. Frankly, given the stark separation many young White people experience from people of color, they have no real incentive to care about racial inequalities in the United States. It’s just not something that affects their day-to-day lives. Thus, many of them simply opt-out of the conversation altogether.
This is what happened at Texas State last week. Some young White people, whether it was two or twenty of them, were confronted with the realities that Black people exist and are also worth investigating as citizens navigating the social landscape of the US who are, in fact, breathing.
It happens in classrooms, shopping malls, kitchens, and public spaces all over the country when White people – who have no incentive or desire to engage in critical dialogue or even simple historical discussion – are confronted with the fact that people of color, particularly Black people, actually exist and they have vastly different experiences with citizenship, survival, and prosperity in this country. Now, I am not suggesting that we should consume ourselves with the “blindspots” of the White Gaze. Nor do I think that we should take this example as an expository lesson for our own behavior. Rather, instances like these only further confirm the fact that as long as White people have the option to acknowledge and recognize the existence of Black people, they have no place in Black liberation.
The choice to remain ignorant of one’s own history is just that, a choice. However, the systematic deliberateness of the imperial project of whiteness (the long, historical process that transformed race into a guiding economic and social principle in the western world) necessitates not only eradicating simple truths like that of the origin of the human race, it also requires that those un-assimilable individuals, those people deemed too unsavory, too different, too nonnormative, to deviant and too Black, disappear altogether. When those students walked out of the classroom, they were not just making a political statement to their peers who remained, they were opting out of the existence of those truths. They were, in essence, saying “nawl blackness, not today. Not ever.”
For me, that redounds to larger movements and this new fangled thing called “allyship.” It leads me to question how White folx can ever truly engage in the project of dismantling the imperial project of whiteness if it’s their literal reality. Yes, there is a lot to unpack here but, what I think is most important is that instances like these not be tossed aside, reduced, and labeled abruptly as just plain old-fashioned “racism.”
Sure, this is racist. But, it is also part-and-parcel with a system of white supremacy that has heretofore run just as planned. This behavior is not errant, random, isolated or new. All that has changed about it is that we have smart phones to capture it for the rest of the world to witness.
Photo via Twitter
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