Reflecting on White Allyship - What it is, What it Means to Me

by Mary Ann Pitcher

I’m a 54-year old White woman, a Chicagoan, a fellow educator to many of you I am guessing. For decades my commitment has been to transforming our Chicago high schools to be places that welcome, support, inspire, challenge, and engage students, supporting them to see and create visions for their future selves, particularly our Black and Brown students who have been so severely marginalized by our system. While my commitment to social and racial justice in education remains strong, my perspective on my position and power is shifting as I wrestle with the skin that I’m in and the current social and political context: how can I believe that education is the ‘great equalizer’ when we see countless instances in which those who have been through the education system still face racism and injustices daily? What is my role in reproducing this inequitable and oppressive system? How do I show up as a White ally in such an explicitly atrocious time of White supremacy and anti-Black racism?

I like to think of myself as a White ally though in all honesty it’s a journey, a life-long one for sure, and I have to grapple with the fact that I can easily absolve myself from fulfilling that responsibility if I’m not vigilant, and that I’ll never fully arrive…On my journey over the years I have experienced movement in my own consciousness and allyship, though much more movement is necessary:

  • Moving from being non-racist to anti-racist. My neutrality in simply not being racist is insufficient to say the least, harmful most of the time. Continuously recognizing the racism that inherently lives in me helps me to understand the need to explicitly combat it by working to become anti-racist. You may have seen this graphic in this link. Andrew M. Ibrahim created it (modified from the covid-19 graphic, original author unknown) to hold himself accountable. I revisit it regularly to do the same.
  • Moving from performative allyship to authentic allyship. I strive daily to understand what being ‘authentic’ means for me and what it looks like. I love this graphic by Seerut K. Chawla which helps me reflect on my allyship and when and how I show up.
  • Moving from understanding racism as the burden of people of color to understanding it as a White people problem; and that our humanity and liberation are inextricably linkedThe words of James Baldwin say it all for me:
    • “The truth which frees Black people will also free White people, but this is a truth which White people find very difficult to swallow.” – No Name in the Street
    • “And I repeat: The price of the liberation of White people is the liberation of the Blacks – the total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind.”
    • “There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by White people, still less to be loved by them; they, the Blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the Whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and will not be today and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” – The Fire Next Time
  • Moving from reading, and listening, and talking to There is so much to learn and read and understand…I’ve got a lifetime of catching up to do…and while I must continue to engage in reading and listening and talking, I must move to action!
  • Moving from ally to co-conspirator. Bettina Love talks about White people as co-conspirators. She charges us to take risks, to put ourselves on the line. This clip moves me to act!

Call to Action

While allyship is a process and a journey, I/we as White people have got to do better NOW. I/we’ve got to get with it, stay in it, and stick with it. Not letting go when it becomes uncomfortable, or is inconvenient, when life starts to return to ‘normal’ after covid-19, when we stop seeing protests in the nightly news. Calling on us to not be this:

“Racists are counting on you to continue doing nothing. They are certain that before long, you will return to your blissful state of denial, where racism is somebody else’s problem. And you will not disappoint them. Racists know some of you better than you know yourselves.”

We can and we must be this!:

Happy Birthday, Ahmaud. Your murder was so egregious, we just might get the cross-racial coalition we need, which is the only strategy against racism that ever truly works. Rest peacefully and don’t worry.

I’ve enlisted the antiracist White people, and with them we are unstoppable. The racism that killed you doesn’t stand a chance. It’s just a matter of time now.”

Mary Ann Pitcher is currently serving as an education consultant and coach. She co-founded and co-directed the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago (NCS), a high school network and research-practice partnership that supports leaders in improving their schools with a particular focus on supporting students through graduation and postsecondary preparation, access and success. Prior to NCS, Mary Ann co-founded and co-directed the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School of Chicago and taught English and co-founded a small school at Harper High School, Chicago Public Schools. Mary Ann has a Master in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago and thirty years experience working for equitable learning environments and outcomes for students in Chicago. She continues to examine and strengthen her own equity stance, knowledge, will, and skill as a White educator.