Pitfalls of White Allyship

Some notes from Regan Byrd’s White Anti-Racist Allyship training on the pitfalls of white allyship are below. Robin Byrd offers more trainings (which can be found on Facebook) that might be of interest to you. Also, because you are getting this info for free, if you feel so inclined you can always give a donation of gratitude to her via paypal or venmo. 

  • Defensiveness
      1. Examples include: “I don’t understand what I did wrong”; “You misunderstood me”; “You don’t know my experiences”; “This is a distraction, we are losing sight of the real target” (that last one is especially common during election season)
      2. Recommended reading: The White Man’s Guilt by James Baldwin
      3. Unreceptive to criticism
      4. We must ask ourselves “what reason do I have to be defensive over this?” before reacting


  • Demanding To Be the Center
    1. White people often demand to be in the center of ally activism even though we are not the experts
    2. E.g. demanding our individuality to take precedence in a conversation (“Look at me as an individual, not as part of ‘white people’”)
    3. Regan showed us this image and asked us what was the problem here:

The question basically assumes it is asking white people (‘Americans’) how they will feel about being in the racial minority in the near future.

      1. “One thing white people have never experienced is a poll on whether their presence in their own country is intrinsically detrimental” – David Roberts
      2. White people will demand that they get to decide when racism has occurred


  • Speaking for/Dictating Work in the Community
      1. Dictating what the work of the community ‘should’ be
      2. Without being invited to give subject expertise (e.g. legal advice that you may have been asked to provide), advising the community
      3. Trying to propose actions without knowing the community’s plans, what they have tried already, what their priorities are, etc., e.g., giving feedback and criticism when it is not asked for


  • Virtue Signalling
      1. Trying to get the ‘good white-person’ label, often by interjecting virtues you claim to have, unprompted
      2. Embeds allyship in character rather than in action


  • Validation Seeking
      1. Looking for reconfirmation of being ‘woke’ and a ‘good white-person’ when criticized by a POC for racist words or behavior; (either by asking a white person or a POC who you think will take your side)


  • Expecting Kudos
      1. Doing things to get ‘credit’ from the community
      2. Performative allyship
      3. The Woke Olympics 


  • Favoring Visible Work Instead of the Invisible
      1. Only showing up for the fun stuff, rather than the less exciting parts, e.g. knocking on doors, phone banking, testifying
      2. Focusing on what you want to do, not where you are most needed, e.g. to provide the unglamorous but important resources such as space, transportation, and child care


  • Avoidance
      1. Not intervening as an ally in a situation in which racism takes place in front of you
      2. Avoiding difficult conversations (because you can afford to)


  • No System of Feedback from POC
      1. We need feedback to know if we are on the right track, e.g. accountability partners
        1. These partnerships must be consensual and compensated
      2. Not checking in with people affected by oppression


  • Tokenization
      1. Using (physical) proximity to POC as virtue signalling or credentialing, e.g. “I have 2 black co-workers and 1 black friend, therefore I am work and not racist”


  • Appropriation
    1. Defined as: involving a cultural artifact containing history and labor, which has been commodified and sold → whereby the profit goes to those who are selling the artifact, not those who worked to produce it and have ties to it → and whereby the original community has not control over the artifact (and how it is being presented and commodified) or the profit made off of the artifact


Going Forward:

  1. Continuing education: on oppression and excellence. It is vital not only to know about the experiences of oppression of a community but also the ways they have succeeded and thrived; e.g. the richest person in history was Mansa Musa, an emperor of the Mali Empire in the 14th Century
  2. Address racism and inclusivity at your institutions
  3. Disengage from oppressive systems fully or partiallyThis could include not calling the cops unless it is really necessary, as this could lead to the endangerment of the lives of POC near you
  4. Talk to children proactively about race, avoid color blindness.  Recommended reading: Raising White Kids: An Anti-Racist Conversation for All
  5. Talk to family proactively, avoid reassurance of racism. Even to that elderly great uncle
  6. Use the Socratic Method to uncover ideology/historical gaps
  7. Have POC and white mentors – consensual relationships of feedback and processingWhite mentors are doing the same work as you and can process with you
  8. Emotional regulation
  9. Self-reflexivity

Robin Byrd offers more trainings (which can be found on Facebook) that might be of interest to you. Also, because you are getting this info for free, if you feel so inclined you can always give a donation of gratitude to her via paypal or venmo.