It happens like this. You, a Black person, makes some white friends. It might start as one friend but they always have other friends so in the end it’s some white friends. You’re really excited because they talk the talk and walk the walk. They used phrases like “listen to Black people” and “not centered on whiteness.” They hold other white people accountable for their racism. They help you financially, emotionally, etc. They offer you advice and support for your business. You’re grateful to have someone who can share the load. You’re certain that they have your best interest at heart. You’re certain it won’t happen again; but it does.
It usually starts as something small; something seemingly insignificant. It can be an offhand comment, a misunderstanding, a suggestion you rejected. Then before you realize it it’s world war 3 and you’re the world’s biggest villain. You might not even know what you did wrong but you find yourself in a fight for your life. That’s when the ally becomes unmasked, steps into their victim role and begin their bullying and smear campaign.
First they try to guilt you and get you to admit that you were wrong. If you insist on holding them accountable they weaponize their marginalized identity. All of a sudden you are transphobic, homophobic and ableist. It doesn’t matter if you share this marginalized identity. It doesn’t matter that those accusation are rooted in racism. Actually the fact that they’re rooted in racism is why so many people believe it. If they have no marginalized identity to fall back on they make one up; mental health is a favorite. The bold ones simply accuse you of being racist while saying their absence will devalue your work.
They may make these accusations in public but where they do their most effective work is in private groups and direct messaging. Away from public scrutiny they spin tales of your evil deeds. They make you seem so powerful that you can threaten anyone’s safety anywhere in the world. They message each supporter and spin those same tales often without any proof. I they get any push back they accuse that supporter of also being homophobic, ableist etc. If you’re lucky your supporters stick by your side but if they’re white they most likely won’t.
After the shock starts to wear off and you’re left with the familiar pain of betrayal you start to pick yourself up and get back to the work that you believe in. You see the thing is you’ve been there before. You’ve had the white friend that you fought was genuine but they turned against you. You swore it wouldn’t happen again and this time would be different. But here you are again. You think about never working with white folks again but under a white supremacist capitalist system it’s a luxury you cannot afford.
So you start building a new network and you start to feel safe again. You’re hopeful. You don’t realize that this time WAS different. It’s different in that the people who have proclaimed to block you for “their safety” have somehow kept tabs on your progress. These people begin to send private messages to your new supporters. This time there are even more accusations. They accuse you of things that you were not even present for. You’re forced to address these accusations in public. Again.
You lose supporters again. Without a word they fall off. This time you’re a little stronger, it doesn’t bother you as much. You know you can persevere. Somehow you’re also more fragile, more tired. How many times must this keep happening? Is the work really worth the hassle?
This happens very often, especially in online spaces. I have seen in many times and been on the receiving end a few times. You might notice you favorite social justice advocate posting less or disappear altogether. Chances are they’re dealing with yet another ally unmasking and they don’t have the capacity to handle it right now.
If you’re the advocate you might be thinking of giving up. If you need to switch lanes or take a step back that is okay. If you are determined to continue then continue you must. These racist in ally clothing want you to quit. They want you to give up. They don’t want you to exist in the same space with them. Sometimes the most radical thing you can do is continue to take up space. The fact that they keep attacking you means that you are making progress and it scares them.
Dominant culture wants us to shrink ourselves and accept the system of oppression that continues to harm us. White people have an entitlement that we cannot begin to fully comprehend. They feel that they are the boss of all Black people, know more than us and are entitled to our labor. They see anyone who disagrees as a threat. They have a playbook and it’s effective. It’s been honed and passed down from the beginning of colonialism. The more we expose it by sharing our experiences the more we can learn from each other and hopefully recognize the fake ally before they even unmask.
Until then we will keep working with them and holding them accountable while hoping that this time we found a real one.