Last week, Real Change’s Board of Directors passed our first ever vision statement: We envision a just, caring and inclusive community where people are no longer marginalized by race and class and have the means to live with dignity.
After the recent hate crime in Charleston, I find myself focused on the part of our statement that refers to a “community where people are no longer marginalized by race.” The slaughter of nine innocent African Americans by a white terrorist is not an isolated instance of mental illness — it’s just the latest piece of the same racist tapestry that has given us the ongoing police brutality against black men, the prevalent and worsening disproportionality of the criminal justice system, and the persistence of a tragic gap for black and brown people.
Over the weekend, I read a provocative article titled “‘Allies,’ the Time for Your Silence has Expired.” Its author, Denise Anderson, asserts that to be silent is to be complicit in the racist structures that undergird our economy and social fabric.
Until reading that article, I considered my 40s to be a watershed decade for me — a time when I “came out” as a person of privilege and became an ally in the fight for social and economic justice. But Anderson rightly warns that white people should not refer to themselves as allies, for that can be self-congratulatory and pretentious. She says we should apply the same rule to the term “ally” that we use for nicknames: They don’t mean anything unless they are given to us by other people.
In other words, I and other well-intentioned white liberals have to earn the mantle of an ally. I’m not an ally just because I say so, but because I’ve earned the designation based on the actions I take that demonstrate solidarity with marginalized people.
It’s not always easy to know how to do that around race. On a webinar last week for funders interested in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, someone asked what white “allies” could do. The host responded by encouraging people to provide critical resources that would support the diffuse network of black organizers and leaders to come together and take advantage of this historic moment. Multiple opportunities exist right now to help support political alignment and strategic organizing among black racial justice leaders. The website fundersforjustice.org has great information about some of those opportunities.
What’s true for an individual becoming an ally is also true for organizations. Last year Real Change embraced racial equity as part of our mission. It’s now integral to our vision, and the city of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative framework is central to our strategic plan. But at the end of the day, we should be judged as a truly allied organization not by what we say we are doing, but by what people and communities of color say we are doing.
Our new vision statement is a depiction of the world we would live in if we are successful in carrying out our work. As a majority-white organization that is engaged in independent media and homeless empowerment, it is incumbent on us to make sure our voice is anything but silent.