I purposely waited for awhile to address this issue because I wanted to make sure I approached it from my usual analytical angle. To jog everyone’s memory, two Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted one of Bernie Sanders’ rallies in Seattle to speak out about their issue and to challenge him to do more for their cause. As it turns out, the rally was canceled without hearing him speak. Since then, people have been going to war on Facebook and Twitter about whether this was a good tactic or not. Others have been using the hashtag #NotNnAlly to describe what an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement looks like and doesn’t look like.
That’s the one that caused a lot of progressives some consternation. In that sense, the gambit worked perfectly. Bernie Sanders has always been about income inequality and the corporate take over of politics and the country. He has been an ally of the issues surrounding Black Lives Matter, but it hadn’t been a central plank of his campaign. That act forced people to think about the issue. Even as they argued over whether it was a good idea for them to interrupt an ally it forced people to think. Even if the tweets, posts, and articles angered mostly white progressives, it forced us to think about our own lives and whether we really were on board.
The answer to that question is not so simple. What I understand is that I will never know what it feels like to be black. It’s just like I won’t ever truly know what it is like to be a woman or any type of minority in this country. Therefore, I will never feel exactly the same way about an issue like those in Black Lives Matter. I will never know how it feels to fear the police or worry that one will hassle my daughter when she is out on her own. I don’t have that same terror when I get pulled over. So, the issue isn’t as immediate to me as it is to them. So, I understand on some level the frustration they feel when some well-meaning person tells them they need to wait for compromise on the issue. I get that much.
What I don’t get is that one of the articles on the issue said something to the effect that an ally would not question what we do or what we say. Dictionary.com defines ally as ” a person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose.” Some would define it even in friendship terms. I cannot stand by and let a friend do anything they want or say anything they want without challenging it if I don’t agree with it. Of course, the beauty is that I would expect the same in return. The issue I have is that if I were to disagree with the tactics of the group then they would consider that tantamount with disagreeing with the “common cause or purpose.”
One of the more amusing anecdotes from the internet surrounding this issue was the poster who said, “you remember that time when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. grabbed the microphone from JFK and derided all of the white liberals? Yeah, I don’t either.” Of course, King did express his frustration at moderates who agreed with the cause but preferred what he called “negative peace” over positive unrest. Again, allies and friends are allowed and even encouraged to challenge each other.
Like any good friendship, I welcome being challenged. Like with any good friend, I’ll probably rebel against the challenge in the beginning. Everyone needs time to process something that rattles our soul. The upshot is that if you want people to be on board then you have to be prepared to do the same. It doesn’t mean we have to agree at the end of the day. It means we have to try to understand each other. It means dialogue is necessary. If I say that I don’t agree with the tactic used it means you should offer a reason for it instead of just calling me or anyone else who says it a racist. You can feel free to say I’m not an ally, but you will find it a lonely road if you continually eliminate well-meaning people that simply question how you go about meeting your objectives.