How to Be An Ally: A Reflection From Baltimore

Editor’s Note: This is a submission from a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous. It reflects her experience during the protests against police brutality sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore resident who sustained a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. His funeral was today. 

Photo Credit: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The protester was in my face, screaming, “White silence is white consent! White silence is white consent!” I stared at her blankly, surprised and confused as to how to respond, so she finished with “Get the f*ck out of here!” before turning away.

After surprise passed, several thoughts went through my head, none of them all that helpful. First: “But I’m not even white!” Then: “But I was at the protest this afternoon! I was neither silent nor consenting!” Last, and even more unhelpful: “But I wrote an Audre Lorde quote, (‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own,’) above my desk, and I know that my liberation is bound up in yours!” That knowledge, of course, is necessary but not sufficient, for being an ally.

My partner and I continued on our way to a suite at the Orioles game. The cognitive dissonance of being surrounded by a bunch of white people intent on drinking as much beer and having as much fun as possible — while some were rioting directly outside the stadium — came to a head when the Jumbotron flashed, “Due to a public safety concern, the mayor & the BCPD have asked all fans to stay inside the stadium until further notice.” One guy in my suite yelled, “Oh my god, I need to get a picture of this for Instagram!” and whipped out his phone.

There was a television in the suite, and at that point, we turned on the local news, which showed a looping 10 second video clip of a kid throwing a huge rock at the line of riot police. I had been one of the protestors earlier in the day where one organizer bragged “I feel so proud, they said a black man like me couldn’t lead you all down here without any violence, and we proved them wrong.” Those words and others moved me to tears. Now all I could imagine was my brother, who is a police officer, behind that shield, his arm quavering from the impact. The big rock kept crashing into the police, over and over, to the ignorant soundtrack of my suitemates:

“Oh my god, I’m going to post this selfie of us with the hashtag #wesurvived!”

“If we lose, we’re going to riot too!”

“I don’t know why they are so upset. There’s no evidence whatsoever that there was any wrongdoing!”

“This totally erases any credibility they had. Do they think anyone is going to take them seriously after this? They’re like toddlers throwing a tantrum.”

“Man, I really wanted to go out partying after this. Do you think we can still go out in the Inner Harbor?”

Their casual words were more of a challenge to me than the woman who had confronted me on my way in to the ballpark. What should I say? After the toddlers comment, I commented that out of the thousands of people out there today, the violence was being done by maybe a hundred of them. The response was a somewhat uncertain, “Yeah?”, like it was unclear how that was relevant, and then the comments continued.

I’m a person of color, but I’m not black. I know that police brutality happens every day, yet my brother is a police officer. All of this makes me feel confused about what the best way for me to support the movement is, given my intersecting identities, and the skills and energies I have to contribute. I firmly believe that not everyone needs to be on the picket lines, but everyone needs to be doing something, and doing more. What can I do? What does it mean for me to ally? How can I be outspoken about these issues without alienating my brother? Can I still do good work if I feel I can’t speak out freely against anti-black racism in all parts of my life?

On some level, the woman who got in my face was totally right. There are many ways in which I have been silent and complicit. And I was able to watch a game with my family in a Camden Yards suite, while Freddie Gray’s family mourns his loss. So I’m taking her words as a challenge to do more. Being an ally is complicated, and so is interacting with one another in a racialized world. But being an ally has to be a verb, not a state of being. I took a step on Saturday by going to my first protest, but the journey must continue.