America’s Civil War was raging.
An advisor to the American President is said to have offered Mr. Lincoln the timely assurance that God was on our “right side” in the war to save America’s Union of then only 33 States. You may remember Abraham Lincoln’s reply. He is often quoted in response: “my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.”
This rather famous quote comes to mind on this date of June 19th, Juneteenth in our contemporary vernacular, as I consider our nation’s more recent events. If you read my June 3rd post, https://www.danielkheld.com/post/when-i-learned-about-racism, you will understand that my own consciousness about matters of race has risen or evolved very gradually over time. Certain milestones have helped me learn something new along the way, and certain learning has impacted my beliefs particularly in regard to racial injustice in America. The most recent of these came in 2014 when I read attorney Lisa Bloom’s book, “Suspicion Nation: the inside story of the Trayvon Martin injustice and why we continue to repeat it.”
Some of you may recall that it was that shooting death back in February of 2012 that gave rise to the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and arguably started the social movement that has now exploded in the wake of recent murders such as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. But the racial injustice for Trayvon Martin was my own “enough’s enough” moment.
Another book that impacted me greatly was Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” What’s interesting is that I only learned of Alexander’s book, written by a notable black attorney in 2010, after I had already read Bloom’s book, written by a notable white attorney four years later. This very sequence in my learning created an implicit bias that black Michelle Alexander was on white Lisa Bloom’s side in what had by 2014 become America’s new, cold, civil war.
Perhaps you think I’m splitting hairs just now, but the very truth of this matter is that author Bloom is far more concerned with being on Alexander’s side, not the other way around.Lisa Bloom has defined herself as an ally, not a leader, in what is now the Black Lives Matter movement.She has role-modeled for white Americans everywhere what it means to be an “ally.” To be on the side of Black America, and not to assume the opposite.
Which raises for me, and now hopefully for you, this new question: what is an ally?
And a follow-up question: how does the role of ally differ from that of a leader?
I have my own answers, but I welcome learning about yours as well if you’d care to comment in response. Mine, most succinctly stated, involves two distinct prepositions. An ally is one who works with. A leader is one who works for. And in relation to a social movement such as BlackLivesMatter, it is vital that white people not presume to "lead for" but rather "ally with" if this movement is to, in itself, truly matter.
Too often we, and I include myself in this confession, have presumed to lead instead of ally. We’ve fought for instead of with. And we’ve reassured ourselves as if God was on our side, rather than concerning ourselves with our being on God’s side. We’ve placed our own cart before the other’s horse. As if to say, again with implicit bias, that our lives matter more.
It is high time we as white Americans learn to serve as an ally. Which in itself will require further reading. May I suggest: https://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/30-ways-to-be-a-better-ally-hesaid/