An Open Letter28 May 2018
Veera Ramayah addresses white allies
Dear white allies, we need to talk. As a self-identifying brown girl activist, you can imagine that I have a lot to say.
We need to talk about the waves of social justice we all seem to be drowning in nowadays. Because it seems that, although you claim to be with us on the lifeboat, you don’t realise that you’re actually safe on shore.
Let’s start with ending the relentless apologies on behalf of all white people. The only thing more irritating than Instagram profiles with “woke #sjw” in the bio is your guilt. Especially when you expect us to pull out a Kleenex and tell you that it’s okay. I’m talking about you, white boy in my DMs, apologising on behalf of all colonial powers every time I post something about Partition. I’m also talking about you, tutor, looking directly at me, the only PoC in the room, acknowledging your complicity in institutional academic racism. We do not exist to make you feel better when you learn the truth about our realities. Ask yourself whether you’re #woke because of your moral compass or because your guilt needs some aloe-Veera.
White allies, we need to talk about stopping trying to let us know you’re “woke” within the first five minutes of meeting us. Having Kendrick and Chance on your Spotify does not give you “PoC clout”. Being woke is recognising your position of privilege, actively stepping into situations where injustice is occurring, and doing something about it. It is, most importantly, not one marathon-viewing of Dear White People during swotvac procrastination, and then retweeting solidarity masterposts.
We need to talk, because, to us, activism isn’t just a hobby. It’s about endeavouring to level the playing field. Activism costs us everything, and we don’t have the luxury security of taking out a loan. As Liz Chao said, “Activism costs us everything: our time, sleep, self-care, mental and physical health, our desire to preserve and protect ourselves and our loved ones, our livelihood, our reputation, our job prospects, our self-respect, our silence and, in some cases, our lives.”
Actually being woke is exhausting. Being an activist is exhausting. But it’s not something we can clock out of after business hours. When you are confronted by racism, you can stay quiet if you want to. Your privilege allows you to do that. But who wins when we don’t speak? Not us. If you truly want to commit to the “woke” brand—to put it bluntly listen and learn. Call out white people nonsense when you hear it. If you get called out, learn why and fix it. When you feel defensive when your ideas are challenged by a PoC, step back and think. It’s not always about you.
I have often been told that the way I bring up race or talk about it in front of my white friends is divisive—angry even. That being less bitter, changing my method of delivery by coating my tongue in a thick layer of sugar, would do wonders for our “cause”. But, if I have to seduce you, with honey-sweet words for you to acknowledge our “cause”, chances are, you wouldn’t be there when we wake up in the morning.
And besides, I really hate the taste of honey.
Because, to be honest with you, white activism is about not gaining anything. Laura LeMoon said it perfectly: “An ally should be personally gaining nothing through their activism. In fact, they should be losing things through their activism; space, voice, recognition, validation, identity and ego.” And, if being confronted by this makes you feel uncomfortable, welcome to the club, sis.
“Faux-wokeness”, as the internet calls it, is dangerous. It makes PoC feel like they are being heard, and even understood—when, in reality, everything that is being said that is deemed as an attack on white people, is being tallied against them, to justify branding us as “angry brown people”. After all: “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
White allies, please stop giving us sympathy votes in exchange for whatever validation you think we’ll give you. You don’t need social clout by piggybacking on us, nor will we fill your ethnic quotas so you can claim the infamous “I’m not racist, I have [insert ethnicity here] friends!”
Let 2018 be the year to educate yourselves. Ask questions instead of making assumptions about our experiences.
White allies, it’s never too late to start making resolutions. Maybe you can include us on your list.
Art by Ayonti Mahreen Huq