Continuing with the conversation about ‘How to be an Ally’ with my friend Alexa Matthews who has a huge heart for this kind of thing and the humility to understand that we are trying to figure it out as we go along:
I have sat with this for a little while – and was hoping to send it off before leaving South Africa for a holiday. I am still wrestling with whether I as a non-black person should be writing this. Simply as part of me knows that this is something that some days I get horribly wrong rather than just right.
Being an ally, for me, doesn’t mean simply choosing to mindlessly go along with the loudest voices shouting about what is happening in the black community – that is not being an ally.
It’s about being willing to listen, hear and acknowledge that on my own, or only surrounded by people who think like me I have an incomplete story or picture of what is happening in our country and being willing to hear why people think the way that they do – whether it is the same or different to me.
There are seemingly obvious ways of being allies to people who don’t look like me: Listen, hear, respect, honour, acknowledge and figure out how to do this so that it is appropriate to them, not just to me.
I think though, that a more pointed way of being an ally is to take on things in the community that looks like me, that sounds like me and that assumes that I will think like them.
It’s about calling out behaviours, conversations or interactions that aren’t honouring of the other.
It’s about being willing to be challenged to ask myself more pointed questions. It’s about having friends sit together and ask what is it that makes me uncomfortable about what is going on around me.
It’s about being willing to acknowledge my own fear, anger and frustration and being open to hearing uncomfortable feedback in return.
I am currently sitting in a (black) friends’ home – we are in the minority in the community where we are on holiday. Since being here, I have been struck be the confidence that the youth have in this community in particular. In the sense of being okay in who they are – regardless of their race and ethnicity and the way in which they have engaged with each other around it. I say this after listening to my younger friends who are still in school engage with their friends, after being in the school context for different things and seeing how people engage with each other at church.
My burning question is HOW did they get this right? The only thing that makes sense is that they had to push through the space of discomfort to form an “us who are different yet together” dialogue in this country.
I believe that it’s only when we can push through that space that we will get to a new sense of together, of being willing to share resources, of being willing to hear that while perceptually some of our lives are feeling challenged in new ways, that actually we are still the minority with a lot more than the majority – something which is research backed & not just the chanting of angry voices. Yes, there have been shifts, but how significant are these?
I believe that being an ally means that when these conversations emerge, that we don’t pushback by highlighting allegations of corruption or commenting on the up and coming black leaders in business or elsewhere- this isn’t just about a class thing, it’s about acknowledging the complexity of the issues and that we are willing to hear. Despite the reality of a strong emerging black middle and upper class, in South Africa, we still have a majority of black people whose life experiences are defined by race in a way that as non-black people are hard to comprehend.
This isn’t a single issue with a single solution – at times the complexity and size of it all feels overwhelmingly big.
At times I wish that I could bury my head in the sand and hide
At times I want to simply walk away from hearing this all.
Being an ally means that I don’t. It means that I have to learn to live in the tension of holding a space which might feel foreign to me, uncomfortable to me and still live life in a way which honours justice, mercy and humility.
Being a Christian ally in this means looking at the role that the church played in perpetuating differences, and still does in how we engage with each other.
As I said at the start of writing this, I am sitting with more questions than answers. These things that I know for sure are:
Being an ally is uncomfortable some days
Being an ally is more about what I allow in my own space when surrounded by people who look like me rather than just being the person who engages with people who don’t
Being an ally doesn’t mean I have to agree with everyone, it means that I have to be open to listen with an open heart and the possibility that I might not be right
Being an ally means that we are seeing complex issues that deserve more than simplified pushbacks.
Being an ally means being intentional.
Being an ally means being. Just that – rather than seeing this as some of kind of project for a select few.
Be an ally.