Ádìsá Ajamu: Identifying Allies Versus Audience Participants in Social Justice Work

Ally, a term intended to convey solidarity and support for a person, cause, or issue, is gaining increasing popularity, which in American culture can only mean one thing: it has slowly become a term full of “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

An ally is someone who, by virtue of circumstance, choice, or conscience, is placed in a position to risk and/or lose as much as you. When Fidel Castro and Cuba committed troops and logistical support to liberation struggles in Africa, Angola, for example, he and Cuba were being allies.

Most of the folks we identify as allies are really what I call “audience participants,” much like on game shows, they are there to encourage and cheer from the stands—but they have no interest in being in the game.

I know some of you are quick to trot out your list of white friends who are allies. I’m happy for you. It snows in Southern California every now and then. Anomalies in nature exist. Over the years I have known many white folks who liked me personally, but didn’t really like Black people. They didn’t say it directly, they just told me I was different, special or exceptional, not like other Black folks. Over time I came to realize that if they didn’t really like my folks, deep down they didn’t really like me, because I am my folks. I also came to realize that allies defend you, the cause or the issue, even when you’re not around—especially when you’re not around. Audience participants don’t.


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The brothers who can channel Audre Lorde in the company of women but remain as silent as a mouse pissing on cotton while in the company of men dogging sisters out? These are audience participants, not allies to our sisters. Folks who proclaim solidarity with LGBTQ family, but sits by in a church setting where everyone runs down gay folks—they too are audience participants.

The white folks who whisper in the hallways how appalled they are at the racist ways Black folks are treated at their workplace but do or say nothing; the white person who proclaims class solidarity while, at every turn, leans on white privilege; the white person who, on every Black FB post, tells you how much they abhor racism and then you go to their page and see nary a mention of any issues related to race and certainly none of the same opprobrium they displayed in the comments on Black folks pages; the outrage they proclaim they share over police terrorism, even as they express disappointment over the loss of property—as if property and Black lives are equivalent. All of these folks are audience participants—only there to cheer while the spotlight is on.

To see what white allies look like, look at the white folks who were on the Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. In times of deep struggle or battle, your true friends reveal themselves as allies too. If not, what is your basis for considering them a friend? Allies of all kinds are forged in the crucible of struggle. If you wanna know who your allies are, and who they aren’t, when you’re in a battle—like the one were in now—look around. The ones fighting with same tenacity as you or harder are your allies, everybody else is just audience participants. If you want to know if you’re an ally or not, look at your hands. If you’re holding a sword you’re an ally, if you’re holding popcorn…well you do the math.


Post submitted by MCU Contributor Ádìsá Ajamu. mcu linkFollow him on the following platforms:

Twitter: @soulsesh

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