What White Liberals And Activists Expect From Black Acitvists And Leaders: A Personal Journey
I recently shared a post on Facebook regarding a white liberal and activist who basically asked me to join his crusade in stopping the wrongdoings of the criminal legal system. That ask, that very pointed ask, echoed through my cell’s membranes all the way to my psyche. It reverberated and still sticks in my conscience. Before, it has happened repeatedly, consistently, unyielding — those kinds of asks.
And for context, that is of utmost importance, the ask came form a cis gendered white male who is probably in his late 60s or early 70s. These are generally the men who want to take up a lot of my time, asking me to join this or join that; do this or do that; protest here or travel there. It’s been ongoing and constant, as if they see me as the answer to all of what they might not be able to accomplish on their own, or it is their own savior complex that involves the color of my skin, my talents, and my time.
Going back at least 15 years ago, especially after I joined the Unitarian Universalist faith (of whom I do not belong to now), I started on that road of joining crusade after crusade. The Unitarian trail led to the Baha’i, then Lutherans, and then other splinter groups and affiliations that took a ton of my time and energy. Traveling to places such as Rockton, IL, Roscoe, IL or Beloit, WI became the norm for events or gatherings to thwart climate injustices, climate change, and to gather anyone who would partner with us or join our cause. This was steady, focused, transformative work.
I am the kind of person who gives undoubtedly and compassionately to causes I care about. In all of those instances, which includes environmental justice groups, committees that focused on leadership with an earlier form of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a collective who spearheaded, shaped, or designed the Unitarian Universalist Association’s current environmental justice practices, I gave 100%. To give less than that, I really do not know how. It is how I am built, how I go about doing anti-racism and social justice work.
Even when the work was tiring, even when I did not have allies who did not wonder or ask about me being a cis gendered heterosexual Black male, even when I was often the sole Person Of Color in the room or the only Black person sitting at the table, I gave and I gave. I gave even when I felt like I was representing all of the Black people in this country sitting at those tables or in those board rooms. A monumental talk for someone like myself — I could never represent all of the thoughts or the experiences of my people, but I kept going anyway.
In 2019 when I left Unitarian Universalism, I noticed how much of me I had given up on or I wasn’t letting guide me anymore, and that is my belief in Pan Africanism. The education, the foundation, the principles had vanished from my activism and consciousness. I thought about it and slowly returned to it, leaning on Buddhism in which I find healing, as well as strengthening. That departure catapulted me back into a mindset where I could reignite the teachings, the understandings, the knowledge I gain from delving into a pan Africanist way of being with eastern religions or eastern spiritual practices I need.
When white activists ask us to join their causes, their crusades, they are not thinking about what we are giving up in return, especially if we are completely surrounded by white liberal ideologies or ways of approaching organizing, community building, and activism. They come at us with a narrow perspective oftentimes, one that is focused on what they can or will accomplish with as at their sides, with us answering their many questions, with us sitting at their tables or on their boards.
I went through a detox to get back to myself. I had to let all of that go. I had to distance myself from the people, the crusades that were keeping me from being me. I worked myself back to a wholeness, a completeness that feels right. Pan Africanism, Black Liberation Theology, African Revolutionaries, the teachings of Bruce Lee, the stories of my people spanning the test of white supremacy all over the world. I will push on knowing all of this is what makes up the best of me, which gives to me, which prepares me for all I need to know as an anti-racist Black activist, organizer, truth teller, creative writer, and performance artist.
I will continue to do the work we need to do, but not joining crusades, committees, boards, etc. I am getting a lot of work done on my own, especially through research, with my coworkers at Women Who Code, and with a few choice friends who are not asking too much of me. White liberals and activists, please consider all of the words in this experience I am sharing. This can be knowledge or an experience you need when you decide to do work for liberation, but you need to think about who you approach and how you approach them.
We Black activists, leaders, thought leaders, etc., we need our own pathways and unique ways of addressing anti-Blackness, environmental racism, poverty, miseducation, racial inequity, and white supremacy. We cannot afford to let what keeps us whole be taken away from us when we are focused on the mission, the plight of Black people and Black liberation in this country and beyond. The world needs us as whole, as complete, as supported as we need to be to help save or transform it.