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Fake friends

During the last decades and originating in the United States, a new edge has been developing in the discussion on racial justice issues that refer to the case of allies. What does being an ally mean? It refers to white, educated and privileged people who declare their support for people of colour, migrants and victims of racism. 

Briefly, the idea is that people who, without having the lived experience of racism, marginalisation and poverty, which generally mark the life experiences of people of colour and migrants, live a process of social and personal conversion into friends-allies motivated to openly declare their support for racial justice causes and act accordingly. In its current version, allies can usually be seen in Black Lives Matter marches and other similar rallies, participating in a way that does not monopolise the voice and spotlight. 

I don’t know about you, but I have never stopped asking myself: To what extent can someone who has never suffered from racism, discrimination or poverty declare that they empathise with those who suffer from these situations? Isn’t it a guilty conscience wanting to erase all the differences unproblematically? Isn’t there something obscene in condoling with someone sleeping on the street while you are in your own heated house?

In Ireland, on one occasion, a person invited me to a meeting of an organisation that carries out different social projects. The person in charge said to me, “we have a good group of people who are motivated to participate, but the only problem is that we want to give a more inclusive tone to our meetings. We would like to have people of colour in the group, can you invite your people? 

As I listened to her, I wondered how a “person of colour” would feel in the middle of this group and how this group would act by having a new member “of colour” invited to make them more inclusive. However, what bothered me the most was not that this group wanted to make themselves more inclusive by inviting a person “of colour” but the fact that this person, in addition to bringing their experience of migration, racism and poverty, had to do all the work of making this group inclusive and aware of their situation. The guest had to expose themselves in front of the group and make them think and learn. Was that asking too much? Was it them doing nothing to appear doing something? 

That’s the problem with false friends. They invite you to do the work they should do in the first place, what is their responsibility. And so, nothing changes. All change is superficial and appearance. Not many people, even those who have a public obligation due to their positions and jobs, want to do the work of getting out of their circle, challenging their fears and prejudices, and genuinely interacting with migrants. How else can someone begin to understand the lived experience of others if it is not starting by losing the fear of that other? And to take that step, you often have to overcome laziness or simple indifference. 

Meanwhile, many people continue to think that the colour of our skin defines rights and dignity or that migrants and refugees have come to take away their privileges. But going back to the story of the group: there is a critical difference between making an effort and just giving the impression that we are doing it. This contrast marks the critical difference between generating real social change and the theatrics of declarations and empty words.

After all, perhaps the only demand one can make to a privileged white ally is that they do the job they need to and not expect migrants and refugees to do it for them. And that means getting into trouble, challenging, learning, interacting. The innocuous collaboration of some so-called allies is as weak as a sticker on the lapel of a jacket only to show others their support for a cause for which they are not willing to trouble themselves.

Photo Sebastian silva







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