June 7, 2020 – On Being an Ally

Today is June 7, 2020 and VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) Day. My source for this information has no explanation for why or how this became VCR day. Maybe it is for all those VCR’s that bit the dust because they “ate the tape” and it could never be removed? Aaargh! Still a frustrating experience even now when I think about it!

on being an ally

The Washington Post this morning relayed an incident from yesterday’s protests that caught my eye. It was not a headline but a story related within a larger story about the protests. Here’s what happened:

Outside the Treasury Department, a white man approached a tall metal fence and shouted at a black Secret Service agent, demanding to know why he didn’t quit his job. The black agent had remained silent and stoic as the crowd yelled, but now, he stepped forward and looked directly at the white man.

“Be sure to remember this,” he said in a low, level voice that carried, quieting the crowd. “Me putting on this uniform does nothing to take away from being black, and the consequences of being black.”

The white protester stared. The agent took another step toward the fence.

“So, before you ask me that again,” he said, “let me ask you this: What does your white privilege taste like?”

The protester gave an angry shrug. “I’m out here protesting for black people who are getting killed by cops!” he shouted.

“Did you find yourself at a voting booth last election?” the black agent asked in the same low voice. “Have you read Malcolm X?”

The white man stepped back.

He had not.

Washington Post, Sunday, June 7, 2020

This exchange should give all of us pause to think carefully about how to be allies to others. The story and case in point is about a white man who appears to believe he was somehow blacker than the black man he was confronting. The black Secret Service agent got that right away and called him out on it. Good for him!

It is really easy to confuse being an ally with appropriating that which rightfully belongs to another, including their experience whether good or bad. This is an aspect of “cultural appropriation” which is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

Here’s a video from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation that explains and illustrates cultural appropriation in a little more than three minutes.

I appreciate that the white guy in the Washington Post story was trying to be an ally. Many, many more white people need to be allies with Black Lives Matter and other groups advocating for the rights of minorities and other marginalized people. I’m a white guy who also tries to be an ally. Sometimes I get it right; sometimes I get it wrong. I can empathize with the white guy in the story.

I can also empathize with the black Secret Service agent. How challenging it must be for him to be standing on one side of the fence doing his sworn duty with his head while his heart is standing on the other side of the fence with the protesters.

I can’t say that know everything there is to know about being a good ally. Here’s what I’ve learned so far and I’m opening to learning much more. When I am an ally:

  • I take time to learn and understand the issues that are facing the people or person to whom I am an ally.
  • When I don’t understand, I ask questions, even if I think it makes me sound ignorant or, even more, actually betrays my ignorance.
  • I support but do not lead.
  • I stand in relation to the person or group I’m supporting wherever they need me to stand: behind, beside, and even in front, but only when and if requested.
  • I do not presume to speak for them or in place of them, unless I am asked to do so and, even then, I am very careful not to put my words into their mouths.

I have made some progress but I still have a lot to learn about being an ally.

One of the things I learned years ago in my training as a therapist still helps me today. Sometimes a client needs to feel all that they feel in order to make the changes which are necessary in their lives. If I take on their feelings, it could have the unintended consequence of disempowering and demotivating them.

As allies we may feel deeply for the people for whom we are standing in support. However, we are not being allies if we feel so much that we end up displacing, and even disrespecting, those we are striving to support.

Figuring out how to be an ally without appropriation isn’t easy. It is important, though, that we figure it out and get it right.


Chickenman – Episode 51

Benton Harbor takes a weekend off of crime fighting to attend his high school reunion where he tries to impress two former classmates, Randolph and Gladys, with terrifying results.


spanish class seats still available

Mi esposa y mi jefa (my spouse and my boss) Clemencia tells me that her ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! Spanish classes have been filling up nicely, especially in Level 2 and Level 3 Spanish. She still has openings in Level 1 (beginners) and in the Conversation level at 4:30 PM Eastern on Thursday.

A unique feature of her classes is that they are intended to improve communication between people who are not fluent in Spanish with people who are not fluent in English. This is not your parent’s high school Spanish class, or even yours. It is all about simply communicating. As students progress through the first three levels to the Conversation level, they become increasingly fluent and more profient with the language. They learn grammar and syntax as they go, through praxis, without the worry of memorization to pass a test.

If you or someone you know would like to take the first steps in learning communicative Spanish, Level 1 is a great opportunity. If you already speak some Spanish and want to strengthen your skills, the Conversation level is a perfect place for you.

To learn more and to register for classes, which begin Monday, June 15th, visit ¡Charlemos con Clemencia!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

Tom

Author: Tom Klaus

I am convinced the secret to almost any good thing happening among people is relational trust. Want to be loved by your spouse, children, and family? Want to work well with others? Want to be an effective leader? Want to help your neighborhood, community, state, or country change for the good? Want world peace...actually, peace with anyone? Building relational trust is when fear, animosity, conflict, and the status quo begins to transform into cooperation, respect, collaboration, peace, and working together for social change and the greater good of all. A good day for me is when I can help social profit, nonprofit, and public leaders and their organizations grasp the importance of relational trust, let it guide their decision making, and inform their strategy. This is just one of the ways that I am animating and equipping leaders, organizations, and communities to lead change for the greater good. Learn more about me, my work, and how you can join me in creating tenacious change: tenaciouschange.us.

2 thoughts on “June 7, 2020 – On Being an Ally”

  1. Thanks, Mike, and yes, it is jefa (feminine) because the boss is a she. 🙂 I’ll check out your confession as well. Thanks for the note. These days it has been a bit hard to be as drivelous as I might like.

  2. As one who still has a vhs machine (and kniws how to use it, I’m happy to report I steered a few customers to tu jefe (since it’s your boss is it jefe or jefa?) if you get a minute, please read my confession on facebook (michael judi bucci), one thing I like about the lutheran church service is it begins with confession, including for things I have done and things I have left undone). Thanks for your attempts at drivel, often failing at being drivel

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