Kwanzaa for White Allies, Day 7: Maintaining Your Faith in the Work
The final day of Kwanzaa encourages you to reconnect with you deep motivations and beliefs.
The theme of Day 7 of Kwanzaa is Imani, which roughly translates to “faith.” This issue is most relevant to two of the issues that allies need to consistently reflect upon — how to sustain your own lifelong allyship journey and your ability to be persuasive to racism skeptics. (The other key issues are: your support of communities of color and your work to grow the anti-racism ally community).
In the literature on Kwanzaa, Imani is purposely framed as the capstone to the week of celebration and reflection. The focus of the day is to remind us of the importance of consistently reconnecting with a deep belief and motivation that lies beneath our love of others and your commitment to community improvement.
As someone who coaches white allies, I think there are at least three common ways that allies sometimes lose faith in their own ally work that might be shored up by tapping into the way that Imani is articulated in Kwanzaa.
Believing that Your Work is Vital to the Movement
A critical aspect of faith in your work as an ally is the idea that anti-racist activity by white folks is a truly vital part of the anti-racism movement, and that your individual work can make a difference. As has been mentioned in other articles in this series, public opinion polling shows that about 55% of white people think that racism against white people is just as important of a national problem as racism against people of color. Clearly, inclusion and equity initiatives can only gain limited traction as long as more than half of whites think they are unnecessary.
How do those minds get changed? Compared to even as recently as several years ago, POCs are much less willing to this work of person to person conversational persuasion. Nowadays, POCs tend to be very fatigued by the idea of explaining the reality of racism to people who are skeptical of it. Mustering the energy to deliver explanations over objectives feels demeaning. And enraging. And tiring. And a distraction for the tasks of living our own lives.
Yet, we know that this must be done. This is where the white ally community has a special and vital role. One on one persuasion must take place, and people of color need white allies to step on and start trying to transform other white folks’ attitudes. In addition, with respect to influencing the racism skeptics in your family, friend, neighborhood, church, and work networks, you are more believable about racism than we are anyway.
From coaching white allies for years, I know that people in denial about racism can be noticeably shifted, and sometimes even transformed. As a white anti-racism ally, it is important that you do not lose faith in power your special role in the struggle. The conceptualization of Imani is helpful here. As the description of Imani in official Kwanzaa website says: “faith in ourselves is key here, faith in our capacity as humans to live righteously, self-correct, support, care for and be responsible for each other and eventually create the just and good society.” This faith is both in oneself and in the power of the social change work if it is approached with discernment and constant reflection on habits of practice.
Confidence That You are Doing Things Right
The journey to learn new ways of allyship will have setbacks, and people sometimes have a crisis of confidence in their methods and in their allyship work generally. My perspective: if you have embraced the idea that a critical task of your allyship is to shift the attitudes of other white people though compassion based one-on-one conversation, it is vital that you occasionally reconnect to the righteousness of your worldview. When you engage in compassion-based persuasion work in this way, you are creating in microcosm the beloved community that the anti-racism movement seeks to create in macrocosm. The sense of alignment between today’s work and the ultimate vision should provide you great confidence.
This feeling of unshakable faith in persuasion based on empathy and compassion is almost the opposite of the attitude anti-racism allies need when you engage in the other front of the war against racism, which is the vital task of working on institutional change in collaboration with anti-racists of color. In that other front of the anti-racism war, it is valuable for you to be in a stance of deference, of listening, and of following the lead of people of color. In the cross-racial collaborative part of anti-racism work, too much confidence by allies that they are doing the right thing causes many problems and conflicts which become distractions from people getting on with the work of changing institutions.
While modesty and deference are vital in that other part of the ant-racism war, an unabashed faith and confidence that your intentions are good is essential in the realm of interpersonal persuasion. Of course, you will need to be self-critical about your actions and willing to examine potential gaps between what you intend and the results you create. Nevertheless, an overriding faith in your desire to use interpersonal dialogue to invite people to see the racism in society and in themselves — while you are admitting to them you struggle to do the same — is key to sustaining your allyship journey.
Why is a strong faith that you are on the right side of history essential? Because if you stay involved in this aspect of the anti-racism struggle, at sone points people will tell you are doing the wrong thing. You will have racism minimizing friends who will tell you’re your commitment to changing the views of your family, friends, neighbors, and workmates is hubristic and condescending. But it won’t just be racism skeptics who will raise questions. You can expect challenges from the other side too, with other white allies or even activists of color telling you that your attempts to use compassion-based persuasion methods are ineffective, or perhaps even a sign of disloyalty.
It is in these moments where the concept of Imani has relevance. From the Kwanzaa site: “we must believe in the value and validity, the righteousness, victory and significance of our struggle for liberation and a higher level of human life.” It is vital to create processes or rituals both during Kwanzaa and outside it that will re-ignite the fires of your confidence.
Feeling Supported by the Arc of History
Too often allies fail to get encouragement from seeing themselves as part of an important historical continuum. I have found that it is helpful for anti-racism allies to sometimes focus their awareness on the long history of the anti-racism struggle that has both preceded them and will likely outlive them. Our typical narratives about history pay scant attention to the fact that there have been people — including white people — who have previously engaged in focused strategies to change white folks’ hearts and minds on racism because they recognized the link between public opinion and public policy. As people engage in the contemporary version of the anti-racism struggle, it is energizing to remind yourself that you are standing on the shoulders of more than two centuries of efforts, including that be white people who were martyred because of their commitment to transforming other white folks.
The Kwanzaa concept of Imani recognizes that seeing oneself as part of a historical continuum is helpful to keeping us going. Imani “teaches us to believe in the good and our capacity to achieve it, share it, and leave it as a worthy legacy for those who come afterward. Let us have faith, then, in the sacred teachings of our ancestors which say to us across millennia: ‘Let’s do things with joy for surely humans have been divinely chosen to bring good in the world.’ ”
You are not the first white ally willing to spend energy you don’t have to spend on trying to improve other white folks’ feelings about race; nor will you be the last. The concept of Imani suggests that if we see ourselves as beneficiaries of our antecedents as well as future ancestors who are bequeathing vital lessons for coming generation of allies, we will be better able to consistently rise to the challenge of the work right in front of us right now.
(Note: There will be one more article in this series).
Dr. David Campt is a nationally renowned coach of anti-racism allies who teaches classes on persuasion and is the principal of the White Ally Toolkit. This is the sixth in a series of guides for allies framed around Kwanzaa principles. Here are the links for articles about Day 1 Umoja, Day 2 Kujichagulia, Day 3 Ujima, Day 4 Ujamaa and Day 5 Nia, Day 6, Kuumba.