#WoWaWildBookClub // Reader Responses – “Allyship”

Reading the reader responses that are coming in from across the country helps to show me that there are people, behind the scenes, working to look introspectively to dismantle their own biases. My hope in sharing these responses is that it will bolster those that need to see white people putting in effort to change the world from the inside out. Enjoy reading the honest responses from those in the #WoWaWildBookClub community about Chapters 9-15 in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Our second topic and resources were around “allyship”. You can read the Session 2 prompt and resources list here.

xx Chelsie

1. In the first section on p. 112, following Hailey’s fried chicken comment, Starr states: “You can say something racist and not be a racist!” Tension between Starr and Hailey continues to mount in the second section.

On p. 243 Hailey says, “I’m not apologizing when I didn’t do anything wrong. If anything, she should apologize for accusing me of being racist last week.”

Take some time to contemplate why being called (or feeling as if you have been called) a racist has essentially become a slur in white society. Why do you think white folks often become defensive when confronted with their expression of a racist idea or action? Does a racist idea or action make someone a racist? Explain.

Chelsie from #WoWaWild :

Calling someone on their racist (sexist, homophobic, etc) behavior is often met with defensiveness as opposed to introspection and apology because of deep seeded need to be seen as right and good as opposed to growing and learning. I think that “racist” has become a mini-slur to white folk because often white people think of racism as something that is overt and intentional (i.e. the KKK), and often a “regular white person” wants to be distanced from these large hate groups. Instead, we need to think of racist comments and ideas as often covert, implicit and widespread. There are many ways in which racism and implicit bias colors our culture (and our countries systems) and lives openly in our day-to-day lives.

When being told something I say or said, do or did is racist I need to remember that 1) the person telling me this is doing so to help break down a giant system that is bigger than me, but I can covertly participate in 2) I am a human being and we are programmed to create biases to support our brain functions – when one of these biases bubbles up, I need to learn to check this part of myself and un-learn my behavior and 3) never let my ego or vulnerability stand in the way of my growth.

Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:

“Growing up in a white community, the topic of racism was used only to describe overt hatred for another group of people. We were raised to be compassionate people, so being called a racist was insulting. That being said, I can now realize that the definition of racism is expanded to include not just hatred, but also apathy, privilege, and lack of access to healthcare, education, and jobs, among many other things. So yes – I believe that to some extent, we are racists, even if it is inadvertent. What have I done to perpetuate the cycle of inequality? What have I personally done to fix it?” – Mary

“I believe this may happen because people are unaware of their racist thoughts or opinions. Plus, being labeled as a racist has a negative connotation. As a result of being surprised and the negative label, they become defensive. Even though a person is unaware of their racist ideas or thoughts and may not think they are racist, they are. However, I do believe with education or connection to other races, that can be corrected.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader

“Anyone who cares to take the time to read or listen to this book wants to think they are not racist. Yet, we all develop prejudices and stereotypes as life comes at us. Even though I worked with urban minorities through most of the 90s, this book presents a profoundly foreign culture to me. I believe the key to moving forward is: 1) be willing to have an open mind to explore whether our statements or feelings have become prejudiced, 2) not be one who too quickly accuses others and 3) give some room for those who have been harmed to express the frustrations of being a minority. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, being a minority isn’t easy.” – Daniel

“I think that part of the problem is our education and how almost everyone does not learn in school about the racism beyond slavery and Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. Even the idea that the 13th amendment ended slavery in this country is false. The 13th amendment explicitly allows slavery, ” as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” and this form of legal slavery still exists in the United States today. When the education of civil racists and racial inequity ends with the Civil Rights act, then people think that racists and racism are something of the past, but of course that is not true. There are countless examples of racist policies and racial inequities being maintained from the 1960s through to today. But because these are not taught in most schools, people think of racists as being evil people from the past. Anyone can have racist ideas, or support racist policies, and we must always be fighting to educate ourselves and learn more and do better. From the Ibram X. Kendi interview:

“Some people believe that a racist is somebody who is in the Ku Klux Klan. So if they’re not in the Ku Klux Klan, then they imagine that they are…not racist. But there are people who battled the Ku Klux Klan, who also think there’s something wrong with Black people [and] who also support policies that lead to racial inequity.”

Finally, it is important to remember that “race neutral” or the stance “I’m not a racist” or “I just don’t see color” is in itself a racist stance. To be neutral in a situation where there is an inequality is to not help the side with less power fight back and gain their rights. Ally is a verb and not a noun. It is your actions and not your intent.” – Matthew

2. While Starr, Maya, and Hailey watch the interview with One-Fifteen’s father, Hailey says, “That poor family. … His son lost everything because he was trying to do his job and protect himself. His life matters too, you know?” Starr begins to leave the room, and Hailey continues, “Are you serious right now? … What’s wrong with saying his life matters too?”

Starr replies, “His life always matters more! … That’s the problem!”

Reflect on the notion of “All lives matter.” Starr observes, “His [the officer’s] life always matters more.” What does Starr mean by this? In what ways do you see this reflected in our society? Why is it important to highlight specifically that Black Lives Matter? That Black Trans Lives Matter?

Chelsie from #WoWaWild: All lives can’t matter until Black [Trans] Lives Matter – and the data shows Black lives are being valued less in so many situations, especially in life-and-death decision making by police. Haliey says “the cops life mattered too”, and Starr responds with, “No, they mean his life mattered more” – this was so powerful to read. If both lives mattered equally to the cop, then both humans would still be alive. In shooting the young Black boy, Khalil, because of the cops own fears. This was saying, through his actions, that the cops life and fears were more important than Khalil’s life.

The cop’s dad then gets to discuss the positive attributes of his son while Khalil is described using only terrible adjectives – setting up a popular narrative that one of the lives was “good and better than” and the other was “bad and lesser.” This very regular occurrence in the media makes me sick – our news stations are so quick to parse out terrible “alleged” adjectives for Black people, but give space for white people (especially white cops) to have a flourish of positive attributes lined up before and after their names. Watching this play out in the book made me think back to how many times I watched the news showcase the death of a “suspected young drug dealing gangbanger” as a positive thing, without question, and I didn’t blink an eye. The Black person on my screen was being portrayed in one dimension – bad – and I, the viewer, was being told to believe that because they were “bad” they deserved to be dead. We need to push back so hard against this narrative until it ceases to exist.

Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:

“Starr means that more people draw attention to the tragedy of the white person than the black person. They narrative is that society tends to side with a white person more. This is reflected in our society so much with what’s on the news and HOW we report stories (using verbiage like “an APPARENTLY unarmed black man”). When we’re saying Black Lives Matter, we’re using the space to recognize a Khalil versus just saying “this is just terrible for everyone”. By phrasing that, it almost takes the blame off the officer.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader

“Though I’ve always prickled at the notion of “All lives matter” (because, duh), I recently heard an explanation that I think explains the situation perfectly:

When a house is on fire, the fire department doesn’t hose down the entire neighborhood because ‘all houses matter,’ they work to put out the fire in the house that is burning. Of course all lives matter, but Black folks are being brutalized and murdered by police who are then (more often than not) getting away with it. Until we focus on fixing the oppression of Black lives, all lives can’t matter because the way our current society is structured and behaving, Black lives literally don’t matter.

Khalil had been patted down multiple times, he didn’t pull a weapon, he had broken no laws, but One-Fifteen shot him MULTIPLE TIMES. Breonna Taylor was in bed, asleep when police murdered her. Elijah McClain was walking home. Freddie Gray was running away. 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was sleeping on her couch. Philando Castile was driving home from the grocery store with his partner and her child– he was shot FIVE times at close range. Eric Garner was suspected of selling loose cigarettes. Michael Brown was shot SIX times when he was suspected of stealing a pack of cigarillos.

Last I checked, being suspected of committing a crime isn’t punishable by death.

James Eagan Holmes, a white man, shot up an entire movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado and was taken alive. Police are trained in de-escalation techniques, but they are actively choosing not to use them. In every case I named above, the officers involved have not been held accountable for their actions. And there are so many more cases. Black people are not disposable. Black lives matter.” – Becks

“The “all lives matter” argument boggles my mind. Sometimes it comes from people with genuine good intent and they’re willing to learn. But a lot of times it seems to come as a rebuttal to the Black lives matter movement. It is assumed that there is a silent “more” at the end of Black lives matter, but it’s actually a silent “too.” The Black community has been oppressed for the last 400+ years and their lives have been treated as disposable.

A lot of times when an innocent Black life is taken by the hands of police, the officer(s) get sent home on paid administration leave and charges don’t get filed. I’ve noticed so many posts regarding blue lives matter and everyone upset with “how police officers are treated right now” and that “it’s just one bad apple.” But if we’re seeing so many bad apples, at what point do we evaluate the tree they’re coming from?

Lots of examples have been thrown around lately, but this is one I like to use: if there’s a group of five children and one gets stung by a bee, we don’t give a bandaid to all five children. We give one to the child who actually got hurt – AKA we prioritize Black lives matter because they’re actively being hurt and oppressed.” – Hannah

3. In this section, Williamson Prep students decide to protest Khalil’s death. How is this different from the uprisings in Garden Heights? Reflect on the reactions of various white students at Williamson: Hailey, Maya, the sophomore girl from p. 185-186, Jess, and Chris. How have you reacted in similar situations? After considering the reactions of these characters (and Starr’s analysis of them), what are some ways you can take a genuine antiracist approach to such situations moving forward?

Chelsie from #WoWaWild: The uprising in Garden Heights is a genuine reaction of anger and dismay to a terrible murder. The reaction at Williamson Prep was an opportunistic response to a terrible murder. Both are responding to the same murder, but the first is personal the second is superficial. It helps to point out that intent matters and who’s voices are being heard matters. I think protesting works and can help bring light to situations that may often be left in the dark, but when I am protesting in the future, I hope to ensure I am lifting up the voices that matter and I am there to support those who the protest is shedding light on, not there to create a moment for myself.

Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:

“The students at Williamson Prep protest for personal self-gain (missing class). The uprisings in Garden Heights are a result of people tired of oppression and unfair circumstances. The people in Garden Heights are expressing frustration and hoping for a change. I have in the past posted on social media as part of a movement just to be included in something that has been happening or feel like I did something, as opposed to actually participate. In the future, I need to focus on being more than ally and actually being a part of the change by taking action.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader

“One of the things I’ve been grappling with is how to be antiracist. I know I’ve often been a passive bystander. I now see the importance of being active. When I see something happen that draws attention away from the important topics or somehow dilutes the focus of the issues at hand, I need to speak up in a loving way. “Hey y’all, maybe we should think about what is being protested. How can we actually make meaningful change here? Is protesting just to cut class really helpful?” Sometimes posing the question is enough to shift the gears.” -Katie

“The difference between to the two is that in Garden Heights, the residents are being directly targeted and affected. The people in Garden Heights know people who have been killed from police brutality or wrongfully treated by police and others, while Williamson Prep students, for the most part, do not have a direct connection to the cause they are protesting. Hailey leaving to simply cut class is a scapegoat way of pretending she is supporting the cause, when she actually doesn’t care and just wants to be known for supporting equality. Her action of protesting does not align with her words or her actions toward people of a different race than her. Maya, on the other hand, does feel connected to the cause, but is torn on how to act. It appears that she wants to empathize and stay with Starr, but isn’t sure how to navigate that. As for Jess and Chris, I think they are on the same page – the don’t protest to get out of class and feel like this is something that is important and should be given specific reverence, but protesting at school is not the way to show their support. The same holds true for the sophomore girl, she is committed to the cause, but knows this is not the right way to go about it. I believe before joining the crowd and doing what is happening in the moment, it is important for all of us to make sure we’ve researched and understand what it is that we are participating in or supporting. Without appropriate understanding, we actually could be doing things that appear supportive, but really do not help.” – Emily

4. In chapter 9 (p. 154), Starr’s mom says, “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.” How does this statement relate to the book? How does this statement relate to white folks’ role in antiracism?

Chelsie from #WoWaWild: This is such beautiful wisdom from Starr’s mother. And it’s a beautiful guiding light to us all – wake up each morning and do the right thing, which is often the hard thing, especially after things went wrong. In anti-racist work, that’s having the hard conversations, looking at your own implicit biases, standing up when its morally right to stand up, even if no one else is. This is a grind, this is hard. I love that Starr’s mom says this to Starr when she needed power, and this gave her the energy to be brave and power through very scary and difficult situations. It should give us all the same power to keep doing what is right and necessary.

Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:

“This made me cry when I read it. I think this relates to the book in a number of ways. Khalil did everything right, and it went horribly wrong for him. Starr did everything right in her statements to the police, but it went wrong. It definitely relates to white folks role in anti racist work because despite our intentions, our impact may not always be right or hit the way we intend. We need to be willing to listen and be willing to understand and to do the work in front of us.” – Katie

“Sometimes you’re working towards all the right things but people in power are not listening to you. In the book, Starr starts to feel powerless in her fight to get justice for Kahlil. She doesn’t have support; her opposition seems to be louder than her supporters. I think that even if you get defeated or do not seem to make a difference in the moment, you need to keep working and fighting for equality and justice.” – Katie

“NORMALIZE CHANGING YOUR MIND WHEN PRESENTED WITH NEW INFORMATION! Okay, that’s not really what Starr’s mom is saying here– she’s going more for, “Sometimes you do everything right and what you’re trying to do still doesn’t happen, but you have to keep trying to do right things.” For instance, Khalil may never get justice, but it’s important to keep holding police accountable.

As for white folks doing antiracism work, you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to get things wrong. Someone might call you out or even yell at you or be mean to you (keep in mind Black folks have been putting up with this shit for hundreds of years; I’d be mad, too– I am mad, too). It is my job, as a white person, to not be discouraged and to not let negative feelings or experiences turn me away from this work. It’s too important.” – Becks

“In the book Starr steps forward to share what happened that night and publicly pushes for the cop involved to be formally charged. This doesn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do and that Starr should let it stop her from doing similar things in the future. For white allies it is important to remember that, as true when learning anything, mistakes are going to be made along the way. That doesn’t mean that you should stop striving to learn more and do better however. It means that you should apologize earnestly and commit to learning from that mistake (so it doesn’t happen again) and continue on your journey to learn and improve yourself and society.” – Matthew

Responses about other resources:

Chelsie from #WoWaWild: The resources in this section were so wonderful. I learned so much, but some of my key takeaways were: Ally is a verb, meaning, if you are going to be anti-racist you have to DO not just show. Also, non-optical allyship is key – don’t do something on the surface level for social points, you have to do the work and be willing to show up to your social circles and within yourself. Finally, the energy at some point will die down, so I have to create a long term plan for my allyship. I look forward to working on this long term plan (which will likely include this book club continuing well beyond this book!)

Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:

“That’s Not How That Works ep. 19 Let’s Cut the BS: From Ally to Accomplice was very enlightening.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader

“The 5 tips to being a good ally video was my favorite, but I also explore the Ibram X. Kendi interview and the TEDx talk.” – Matthew

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