This Is Us

If You’re a Real Ally, You’ll Keep It to Yourself

Don’t call yourself one unless you’re doing the work

Bridgette L. Hylton
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readJun 20, 2020

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An array of hands, mostly Black and Brown, and some White. Some of the hands are held in the Black power fist.
Credit: Kat J Weiss/iStock/Getty Images Plus

I say this with love, in the spirit of allyship and friendship, and fully knowing what you mean when you insist that you are an ally to me, to Black people, and to the Black Lives Matter movement, either as a formal organization or just in the spirit of what those words mean: Stop proclaiming yourself an ally, or at least remember that if you truly are an ally, you won’t need to say so in almost every relevant context.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I value our collaboration. I want to work to build a better future for all of us with you and anyone who wants to move our world forward. I would never reject anyone’s willingness to do the work. A proverb recently popularized by Sen. Cory Booker says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We have far to go, and we must go together or not at all. I just ask that how we frame our alliance be carefully considered.

I know you always mean well. I understand why you do it. Mostly, you want me and other Black people to feel safe and protected from the potentially threatening components of your whiteness or other variations of non-Blackness and from the racism of others, should you see or be made aware of it.

“Ally” is a noble title. You’ve borrowed the term and all its loftiness from the LGBTQ movement. It even brings to mind World War II and the alliance to defeat Nazi Germany — another bastion of racism. It seems fitting that we should ally ourselves, given how much work the world still has and will have to do to affirm the mattering of all Black lives and how many hands we will need on deck to do it. But it doesn’t always convey what you believe it does, especially if the words aren’t backed up by concrete, repetitive, and intentional inward and outward action.

Here’s the thing about allyship: I don’t think I or any of the other Black people I know think the vast majority of white people and other non-Black people are very good judges of their own racism or anti-racism.

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