Sunday Reflections: That Time I Tried to Talk About Being an Ally and the Book That Can Help Us All Have Those Conversations
Last summer, during the height of Black Lives Matter, I took 3 masked 12 year olds to the grocery store. All of us are white. As we were walking in, a Black man was walking out.
“Let’s raise our fists and yell Black Lives Matter,” one of them said.
And that started one of the most important conversations I have had in a long time with these girls.
I told them no, you shouldn’t do that and when they asked me why, I explained to them that this man was a stranger and he did not know owe us his time or attention. I told them that they were a group of giggling 12-year-old girls and he would not know if they were being sincere or mocking him and the movement. I told them that it would be wrong from them to assume that just because this man was Black that he agreed with Black Lives Matter or the current protests that were happening. I told them that they were not being helpful and would be centering themselves in this moment and possibly causing problems for this man, who as far as we know was just a man trying to go grab a gallon of milk or whatever.
And then they started talking about the Black Lives Matter events happening on social media. They talked about turning their avatars into black squares and when of them mentioned the black square with a raised fist one of the girls corrected the others and said, no you can’t use that one, it’s not for us. And I stood back and watched them all process and talk about what they were seeing and hearing on social media, jumping in every once and a while to correct some factual errors or add nuance along the way.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were having a conversation about being an ally and – there’s a book for that.
Allies is a nonfiction book that presents a variety of individual essays that talk about what it means to be an ally. It starts from the premise that there are no perfects allies and then asks you to sit and think about what it means to be one. From the very first introduction, you just get profound thoughts on top of more profound thoughts to think about. And it starts by asking us as allies to de-center ourselves, to listen, and to let the voices of those who we claim to be allies for to speak and amplify them whenever possible.
As a white woman raising white teenage daughters, the idea of raising allies is very important to me. We are a family of deep, abiding faith and we believe that it is important to love our neighbors as ourselves and to make the world a more just place in whatever ways we can. I also know that we benefit from our white privilege and, like those around us, we struggle with our own internalized misogyny and racism and all the other isms that we are indoctrinated with from birth in both overt and covert ways. Learning how to be a good human, a good Christian, and a good ally are life long processes. It’s a constant state of undoing, relearning, trying, failing, and then trying again.
I appreciated this book. It was a challenging read. It is a thoughtful read. It is an encouraging read. I’m getting each of those girls that walked with me through the grocery store that day their own copies. I know that they, like a lot of teens in today’s generation, are very much wanting to change the world for good. But even people with the best of intentions make huge mistakes along the way. Allies won’t make it so they become the most perfect allies, but it will help them to become more thoughtful and better ones on their journey.
Publisher’s Book Description:
This book is for everyone. Because we can all be allies.
As an ally, you use your power—no matter how big or small—to support others. You learn, and try, and mess up, and try harder. In this collection of true stories, 17 critically acclaimed and bestselling YA authors get real about being an ally, needing an ally, and showing up for friends and strangers.
From raw stories of racism and invisible disability to powerful moments of passing the mic, these authors share their truths. They invite you to think about your own experiences and choices and how to be a better ally.
There are no easy answers, but this book helps you ask better questions. Self-reflection prompts, resources, journaling ideas, and further reading suggestions help you find out what you can do. Because we’re all in this together. And we all need allies. (From Penguin Randomhouse)
Allies comes out on Tuesday, September 14th and I highly recommend it for everyone. It’s a thoughtful, challenging, and inspiring read for any of us who want to try and do our better to make a world a better and more just world but don’t know how to start. It starts with listening, and these authors have some powerful thoughts to share.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network