Kwanzaa White Allies — Rationale and Summary for the Series of Articles
A recap of the seven-part series about why Kwanzaa can help white allies reflect on their work
Over the past week, I have written a series of articles designed to encourage white anti-racism allies to use the concepts from Kwanzaa to reflect on their allyship. The premise of the series was that the Kwanzaa framework, while created to help people from the African diaspora connect with important and nourishing concepts from African culture, is so sufficiently grounded in universal principles that anyone committed to community building and social change might benefit from reflecting with this conceptual tools.
I thought that the Kwanzaa framework would be useful because it does a great job of directing attention to oneself, one’s community, and one’s efforts to improve the word. We all need to think about these issues, but white allies have three communities they need to figure out how to relate to — other allies, racism skeptics, and people of color — and relating to each of them has its own complexities that merit examination.
As someone who spends a lot of time coaching white allies, it was clear to me that the Kwanzaa concepts had relevance to four questions that I think do not get enough focus by white allies. These questions are:
How are my thoughts and actions about anti-racism allyship helping me…
1. Sustain my own anti-racism journey?
2. Provide support for people from racially oppressed communities?
3. More effectively move racism skeptics to a better understanding of racism against people of color?
4. Support and grow the community of effective anti-racism allies?
If you think of yourself as a white ally, I want to strongly encourage you to give yourself room think about these questions, whether you use the Kwanzaa framework or not. Even though many POC anti-racist activists of color expend a lot of rhetoric criticizing white allies for centering themselves- — and there are good reasons for this concern — my opinion is that these criticisms need to be balanced with a recognition of the critical role that the white ally population will be vital to the ultimately success of the anti-racism movement. As should be obvious from our news feeds, white superiority thinking and resistance to addressing racism is very deep and extremely resilient among white folks. White allies need to be looked at as the main source of active personnel on one of the two front lines in the anti-racism war, and that is to change white public opinion. (The other front line is creating institutional change; on that front, allies might be better suited in a support role as they collaborate with people of color).
If white allies are vital to the anti-racism movement, we all must think seriously about how the movement recruits, empowers, and equips them so the ranks grow. At the same time, each white ally need to think seriously about what they themselves have to do to stay in the fight in the long run and to become increasingly effective. This is what the above four questions are about. People need to think intentionally about how they are consciously managing their own journey toward greater allyship (question 1) and how they are consciously attempting to grow the ally community (question 4) In addition, allies must be mindful of how they are relating to people of color, both as comrades in anti-racist efforts and as fellow members of society (question 2). Lastly, in my opinion, the most neglected aspect of ally work is one-on-one persuasion, so allies need to pay attention to how their skills in this vital area are growing (question 3). This last question is the primary emphasis of the White Ally Toolkit.
To summarize for those who did not catch the entire series, the following lists the emphasis of each day of Kwanzaa in Swahili and English, and what the article was focused on.
A final word of caution and encouragement
Over this series of articles, I have tried to be transparent about my status as a black man who coaches white allies about how to be persuasive about racism with white people. I do not claim to be a scholar of African culture in general, nor Kwanzaa specifically. If you pursue the many benefits of systematically thinking about the Kwanzaa framework as a foil for reflecting on your allyship, there very well may be people, including black anti-racism activists, who may look askance at your engaging this framework — especially if you do so publicly. (Here is an example of such questioning that I think is thoughtful, even while I mostly disagree with it). Even though I am happy to defend white allies embracing Kwanzaa as a tool for allyship reflection (feel free to refer critics to me at @thedialogueguy), the fact that you got the idea from a black person will not completely shield you from that criticism. You must be prepared for that. This issue as not limited to using the Kwanzaa framework. And as long as you do ally work, you can expect to sometimes get conflicting advice from different people of color. This is one of the many conundrums inherent to the ally’s journey.
Your need to be ready to absorb criticism about using the Kwanzaa frameworks mirrors the observation on Day 7 that you must be ready for criticism if you approach the task of persuasion and using best practice based on compassion. Though I have complained about anti-racism activists who seem to only have snarky observations for white allies, there is one point on which I heartily agree with them: there are perils if your motivation for your allyship is primarily for emotional cookies (i.e. verbal compliments) you get from people of color, especially from people you don’t much about you. Like the sugar in actual cookies, kudos and accolades from strangers can sustain you for a little while, but in the long run you will need other nourishment to sustain your activism.
The path of the self-reflective anti-racism ally is difficult, but if your underlying philosophy is robust, it is its own reward. Good luck on your allyship journey. The world needs you to stay on the path.