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Are Allies Even a Thing?

The concept of ‘pet to threat’ became more widely known in 2020 after attorney and writer Erika Stallings published a moving piece on Medium, describing the experience Black women often have in the workplace that takes them from being the office darling to being treated as a threat. Over time, or even rapidly, White coworkers who once tried to position themselves as allies become the very antagonizers and doers of harm that they claim to be so staunchly against. 

I’ve seen it play out time and time again both in my own career, and in the careers of the many Black women I have coached over the years. 

Diagram adapted from "The problem Women of Colour in the Workplace" which outlines how women of color enter the workplace and are celebrated and eventually become a problem needing to be fixed for solved.
A diagram for the

The White coworker who seemed so friendly at first is now cold and undermining. 

Your White supervisor goes from seeming like your biggest advocate to the ringleader of sabotaging your growth at the company.

White teammates who were once so happy to have you aboard now create a hostile working environment.

The pattern calls into question the validity of allies and how White folks do and do not show up for their Black professional peers. While White allies might consider their Black coworkers as friends, that friendship often comes with the catch that the Black coworker be subjugated to their racial aggressions. 

Picture of the 2020 Women's March. White women are wearing pink "pussy hats," a Black woman sucks a lollipop and holds a sign that says Don't forget White Women voted for Trump.

As Black History Month starts to wind down, it’s fitting to reflect on the true essence of what profound Black leaders like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have thought about the state of White allyship in the workplace. I suppose he may offer words similar to this statement he once made: “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” 

By believing that they have so little to learn when it comes to dismantling anti-Black racism in America, White folks leave themselves susceptible to perpetuating severe harm against their Black peers in the workplace. Many felt that their efforts during the second Black Lives Matter uprising in the summer of 2020 were enough to undo these injustices, yet almost four years later, and Black folks are still being run out of their places of work due to racial abuse. 

Allyship, like most anything in life, requires diligence, consistency, commitment, and above all, sincerity in action. To reflect on the state of allyship in your own place of work, ShiftEd Consulting offers the following questions to sit with:

  • Do you only advocate for Black folks when socially acceptable? 

  • Do you weaponize concepts you’ve learned instead of actively implementing them? 

  • Are you receiving and seeking personal development consistently?

  • Are you asking or expecting your Black colleague to teach other White people how to not be racist?

  • Do you invite yourself into all Black spaces because you see a Black person you perceive as a friend there? (Perceive is the key word here; is that friendship one that is built on mutual trust and respect?)

  • Do you advocate for Black people when no Black people are in the room?

  • Do you push other people in all White spaces? 

  • Do you micromanage?

A White woman smiles and looks at a Black man in a scene from the movie Get Out

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a great starting point to begin more earnestly pondering the state of allyship in your place of work. The performative nature that allyship has taken on in recent years does no service, of course, to Black folks and also keeps White folks trapped in their bubbles of racial ignorance. 

This Black History Month and beyond, may we strive for allyship that tangibly shifts the lived experiences of your Black professional peers in the workplace. To take the first step toward this change, schedule an introductory call with ShiftED Consulting today. 

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