allyship. the toothless tiger of the diversity & inclusion movement posited to encourage black people to think that the conversations are leading to change. with every text message, email, and social media post of “i’m so sorry” and “what can i do?” i am reminded that the allies are in the shadows. they speak in whispers, feign concern, still their quivering lips at the shock of what has happened and then they ask, what can i do? as if the data has not been presented at countless BRG/ERG events, or shouted through megaphones with each killing paraded on the 12o’clock, 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock news cycles like modern day lynchings where white people bring their children to stand and stare at the mutiliated black body suspended by a coarse noose from an oak tree.
the catalyst that caused the US to join the fight against nazi germany was the bombing of pearl harbor by the japanese. hitler and his axis powers were marching all over europe preparing to invade poland. great britain desperately needed their allies to step up and join the fight. but the US did not lend its military might until thousands of US enlisted men were killed on december 7, 1941. the day that fdr said would go down in infamy. the irony of the word “allies” is that the US watched from the sidelines as great britain was getting their asses kicked by hitler and his blitzkrieg attacks. not only the US, but also france, they too, were slow to act. in truth, that’s exactly how D&I allies behave: slow to react unless or until they are directly affected; when their career is bombed in a sneak attack and their livelihood is affected they are ready to take up arms and fight but until then, they will sit quietly on the sidelines and watch their compatriots suffer domination and terror.
in a post penned for linkedin, i reflected on ferguson and my experience coming to work the day after the decision. my manager at the time called me and during the course of our conversation he stopped and asked me how i was doing. that touched me deeply. he was the only leader at my company to take a beat, to pause long enough to check on me, a black female colleague the morning after freddie gray’s attackers (the cops who arrested him) were absolved of any miscconduct. i posted my appreciation for my manager (who i tagged on the post). the hr business partner commented on the post, lending her agreement with what i said and thanking me for sharing a personal story. two days later her post disappeared. it struck me odd that the hrbp who was on my interview panel, who knew my former manager, who lobbied for me to attend a conference in paris, deleted an innocuous post. obviously i have no idea why she deleted it. perhaps it was a mistake. whatever the case it sparked questions and i wondered, is that what allyship looks like? when you’re fearful you cut ties with others?
i’ve heard many stories of folks who are DEI supporters and allies until the heat is on and then they question their involvement and commitment. that happened with a millenial white woman on my team. she and a black millenial male were leading the BRG after i stepped down. their effort at BHM fell flat with some black folks whose voices carry. she asked for my input and i told why some folks were disappointed. i explained to her that leadership means doing the tough stuff when you’re right and standing by decisions you make when people are unhappy. she listened and i later found out she told her co-chair that she had to step down to focus on her new job. odd, because she reported to me. i knew her workload and there was nothing to step down from except criticism. she chose to lead, chose to be an advocate, chose to be an ally and build a BHM program and when a handful of black folks raised their voices in disagreement, she cut and run. this happens often. when we think someone is standing with us only to find they want our rhythm but not our blues.
choose wisely friends. not everyone who says they are an ally is willing to join the war with you. i think FDR is the greatest president the US ever had, the man served three terms (the only one to do so), had polio during his tenure, led us to and through WWII, authored the new deal, WPA, social security, and services that we use today. like all people, he faced a crossroad. FDR wrestled with allyship, fearing the impact to this great nation and in the end, a common enemy forced his hand. and sometimes, that’s necessary.