Kwanzaa for White Allies, Day 5: Courageous Introspection
To better serve others, sometimes it’s good to take a hard unblinking look at yourself.
Day 5 of Kwanza focuses on the concept of “Nia” which linguistically translates roughly to “purpose” but conceptually has many layers. One description of Nia is “the collective vocation of constantly building and developing the capacity of our people to bee ourselves and free ourselves to pursue an expansive good and come into the fullness of ourselves.” The concept provides a useful focus for anyone — including white allies — who are reflecting on their developmental journey. Nia directs you to think about the ways that your thoughts and actions are helping you become a better person who is actively and intentionally contributing to a better world.
For white allies, this concept can prompt some important contemplation and discernment around an important question about anti-racism philosophy and practice that allies don’t ask often enough: To what extent is my anti-racism allyship helping me become a better ally and a better person?
Central to your anti-racism philosophy is a vision of the world that the anti-racism movement seeks to create. I would suggest allies focus their anti-racism vision on the notion of the “beloved community”, a term brought to public prominence Martin Luther King Jr. In the world of the material, this vision includes the replacement of structural unfairness and degradation with equity and inclusiveness; in the world of relationships, King says that the beloved community is filled with the “type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.”
While few anti-racists would explicitly disagree with these notions, most of us have met people who are committed to fighting racism but whose approach to doing so seems grounded in the lower parts of human nature — judgementalism, hubris, status and attention seeking, and similar qualities at odds with the beloved community. So allies should occasionally ask themselves, are there safeguards in my approach to anti-racism that will help me ensure that I don’t become one of those anti-racists that I (and others) find the opposite of inspiring?
Reflecting on Nia can be helpful. The concept of Nia refers to the idea that each of us should be “constantly building and developing the capacity of our people to be ourselves and free ourselves to pursue an expansive good and come into the fullness of ourselves.” Allies can apply Nia as a lens to examine the ways that their thoughts and actions regarding anti-racism are affecting their relationship to themselves, to others, and to the world.
Allyship and your relationship to yourself
Some of the questions to think about concern the way that your involvement in anti-racism work is affecting your relationship with yourself. Allies should ask: Are my philosophy and habits in fighting racism helping me….
· become more centered and grounded, as opposed to unhelpfully agitated?
· move toward the right balance between good levels of confidence and of humility, as opposed to being overly prideful or excessively self-deprecating?
· become more reflective about my strengths and weaknesses, as opposed to less willing to question my actions, my unintended impacts, and my possible unconscious motives?
· more clearly and courageously see the ways that my anti-racism work is flawed/incomplete?
Allyship and your relationship with others
The principal of Nia asserts that “the good we are doing for others and the world [is something] we are also doing for ourselves.” Ideally, your thoughts and actions related to anti-racism should be helping you improve your relationships with others — certainly on the topic of racism and perhaps more broadly. In reflecting on your anti-racism work, ask yourself: Is my involvement in this work helping me….
· become more compassionate to those I like as well as to those whose views or behavior I detest?
· extending grace to others while treating them with a sense of loving accountability?
· effectively invite people at different levels of racial sophistication to question themselves?
· improving my ability to comfortably and honestly relate to people of color without inappropriately centering myself or them?
· improve my ability to communicate persuasively to racism skeptics? (and become more persuasive generally?)
· inspire less experienced allies to move to greater levels of commitment around anti-racism?
Allyship and how you relate to the world
Central to the idea of Nia is that if we have found a robust definition of our purpose, there will be an alignment between our journey to become our truest and highest self and our work to bring about an improved community and world. Thus, allies can ask themselves: Is my anti-racism work helping me….
· more clearly recognize domains where racial progress has been made, and more expertly talk about this progress when doing so is helpful in a conversation?
· more clearly articulate domains where racial progress has stalled or reversed, and talk about them persuasively to people at different levels of racial awareness?
· make good decisions about when to energetically press demands for racial progress and when to make tactical retreats to foster long-term victories?
· become more empowered, active, and effective as part of the community of change agents creating a more anti-racist future?
By its nature, anti-racism work is outward directed. Nevertheless, in order to sustain a good practice as an anti-racism change agent, it is important to sometimes stop and evaluate how your personal journey is going. Put differently, sometimes the work needs to be about you. Nia provides a good lens to examine the degree to which your underlying philosophy, habitual thoughts, and daily actions on anti-racism are helping you become both a better anti-racist and a better person in general. The beloved community needs more of both.
Dr. David Campt is a nationally renowned coach of anti-racism allies, and principal of the White Ally Toolkit. This is the fifth in a series of guides for allies framed around Kwanzaa. Here are the links for articles about Day 1 Umoja, Day 2 Kujichagulia, Day 3 Ujima, and Day 4 Ujamaa.