5 Articles to Help Build Better Allies for Black Liberation

Marissa Johnson at the Bernie Sanders Rally in Westlake Center on August 8, 2015. (Source)

It’s been one week since the interruption of the Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle’s Westlake Center by Black Lives Matter agitator Marissa Johnson + company. The reactions and media fire condemning Ms. Johnson’s calculated and intentional act of defiance has been nothing short of appalling, traumatic, and downright ugly.

As a matter of self-care (after receiving a number of hateful and angry comments in response to my expression of allyship for the interruption), I decided to distance myself from the conversation to give me and others the time and space to reach deeper clarity on what this action means for the Black Lives Matter Movement and for myself as non-black POC ally.

Anti-Blackness beyond the white supremacists

Much of the analysis that I’ve observed highlights the division between the black interrupters and the outraged white community, which has shined a light onto the supremacy that exists within the white progressive left. Little of what is circulating, however, has focused on the anti-black sentiments that exist within non-black POC communities. Within these communities, the community of which I am a member, there are similar expressions of disappointment, disdain, and disapproval for Ms. Johnson’s action.

The lack of support from non-black POCs underscores the inherent anti-blackness that is deeply internalized into the perceptions and identities of non-black targets of oppression. The direct action that occurred at the Bernie Sanders rally on September 8, 2015–364 days after Michael Brown was violently murdered–has allowed me to come to terms with this reality. It has allowed me to accept my inherent anti-blackness, to redefine and develop my actions of allyship to the black community, in addition to inciting dialogue with my community about how to challenge anti-blackness in our lives. And for that, I am immensely grateful for Ms. Johnson, for she demonstrated a level of courage, composure, and power that has awoken many to the roles we play in upholding oppressive structures.

The challenge I face now is figuring out how to express my allyship by coherently calling in those in my circles who stand in the way of black liberation. I often find myself speaking clumsily and emotionally, frustrated not only with the oppressive systems, but also with my inability to formulate my thoughts into articulate dialogue. Thankfully, there are like-minded folks who have done the legwork.

These 5 articles were integral in helping me process and understand how the interruption relates to black liberation and what the condemning reactions mean in the grander scheme of race relations.  I hope they give you the same strength and confidence to embrace your role in the Black Lives Matter Movement–be it leader or ally–that I received, as well as the tools and language to speak out against the supremacist structures that oppress black liberation.

#1: The Interrupters by Waleed Shahid published on Colorlines.com

Features commentary from Black Lives Matter leaders and other associated movements that beautifully articulate how important and constructive this direction action was.

#2: Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter, and the Racial Divide in Seattle by Ijeoma Oluo published on The Seattle Globalist

This article provides excellent responses to many of the supremacist sentiments that have been ringing throughout the white and non-black POC communities. 

#3: In Her Own Words: The Political Beliefs of the Protester Who Interrupted Bernie Sanders by Eli Sanders published on The Stranger

Johnson’s unapologetic black radicalness is beautiful. This collection of statements she’s made over time through multiple interviews demonstrates her wise and calculated actions.

#4: How Do We Call People In Even As We Call People Out? posted on Seattlish

For those struggling with accepting this direction action as constructive, this article deconstructs and reframes the event through an ally’s lens.

#5: Guest Editorial: Why Saturday’s Bernie Sanders Rally Left Me Feeling Heartbroken by Pramila Jayapal published on The Stranger

This editorial piece by Washington State Senator Pramila Jayapal reflects on her experience at the event and provides an important perspective as a non-black POC.