Knowing Is Not Enough
July 9, 2020
An essay on allyship.
It isn’t enough to know that Black lives matter. It isn’t enough to march and protest. It isn’t enough that you educate yourself on the oppression of the Black community. The Black community deserves more than politics. It deserves your commitment when #BlackLivesMatter stops trending. It deserves the same adoration you have of Black culture. It deserves your heart. Your mind simply isn’t enough. Facts and figures serve as poor tinder when you grow tired of this conversation. Knowledge has not and will not save America.
Whitesplaining racism isn’t helpful. Explaining trauma you’ve never experienced, that you can’t experience, is insulting. We’ve lived this trauma. We are tired of talking about racism. We are tired of being triggered to appease your curiosity and entitlement. We are tired of spoon-feeding you the truth. We are tired of witnessing white tears and catering to white guilt. We are tired of watching snuff starring our brothers and sisters. We are tired of treading the Middle Passage.
“This isn’t work you will find gratifying; winning will feel like losing because privilege is all you’ve ever known.”
We are tired, and you can help. You can commit to being a student of the cause because you can never learn enough. You can educate others living in willful ignorance. You can become intimately familiar with your own biases and prejudices. You can identify the role you’ve played in perpetuating a system that you’ve inherited. You can use your privilege to take a backseat — or to forfeit your seat entirely. The Black Lives Matter movement cannot be just another line item on an agenda. You shouldn’t need incentive to do the right thing, to make room for Black people. You should get comfortable with failure because you will get it wrong — and often. This isn’t work you will find gratifying; winning will feel like losing because privilege is all you’ve ever known.
When the societal embers cool, your personal connection to the cause is the only thing that’ll keep you. That means your intentions have to surpass the current climate of curiosity. That means being vulnerable and uncomfortable often. That means being a friend. Real, lasting progress has to happen at the individual and interpersonal level. What good is policy reform if progress isn’t felt in the hallways, lobbies, and commutes of everyday life? Overt racism is easy to identify. There’s a subtle, more sinister side of racism that’s harder to uproot, that’s found in the daily routine of our lives. Some of you can shout and protest in the street but can’t make eye contact with your Black coworkers during a meeting or say good morning in the hallway.
Microaggressions are the residue of racism. Progress is bigger than picket signs, politics, and policy. Progress isn’t being misidentified as another Black woman in the office. Progress isn’t excluding Black leadership from executive decisions. Progress isn’t rejecting a candidate because they don’t resonate with your whiteness. Progress isn’t always using your must-hire for someone who looks like you. In conjunction with policy reform, you will still have to create an environment where that change is felt. In order for that to be realized, you must build authentic relationships with Black people. It’s your personal proximity to Black people that’ll hold you accountable, that’ll remind you that the work is never done.
Social media has made racism harder to ignore, but the data on systemic racism has always been there. We aren’t short on information. We aren’t short on knowledge. We aren’t short on cries for help. Buried bias and willful ignorance have perpetuated racism. America, we have a heart problem.
Melody M. Benjamin is a Sr. Creative Recruiter, Global Talent at Huge.