The 'Allyship' Double Standard | Opinion

When far-left black antiracists—critical race activists popularly known as "the woke"—work with white people, those white people are known as allies. They are not there to center themselves or usurp the project or mission at hand. They are there to help spread the message being conveyed by its black leaders. Most people in politics and activism know of this concept. However, when black activists to the right of this political stance, even those who self-identify as liberal, work with whites, those whites are not seen as allies. They are seen as handlers, puppet masters secretly calling the shots behind the scenes.

Why the double standard, and what does it say about the people who hold it?

As president of Free Black Thought, a website and journal that celebrates viewpoint diversity within the black diaspora, I am held to that double standard. Some of the members of Free Black Thought's executive board are white, and this has attracted criticism, sometimes quite vitriolic, from those who either don't believe in our message or feel that message is tainted by the mere presence of whites on the staff. We are accused of inauthenticity and deception. Yet, even though I express that the black people running Free Black Thought are free thinkers who come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions, even though the organization's president and vice president are black, and even though we show a multiracial group of co-founders on our website, the consensus among the black radical Left and their white allies remains the same: Free Black Thought is a front for white supremacy.

Of course, this issue goes far beyond one organization. Whenever a person of color does not express the right sentiments, he or she is automatically deemed inauthentic, an Uncle Tom, a dupe suffering from internalized racism. Conservative blacks like Tim Scott and Clarence Thomas know this all too well, but so do left-leaning blacks like John McWhorter, Van Jones, and yours truly. It seems that if a black person sticks so much as a toe over the line circumscribing the realm of "wokeness," he or she will automatically attract the label infamously attributed to Larry Elder during his political campaign: "the black face of white supremacy."

Why is this allowed to stand? Why doesn't the radical Left recognize this blatant hypocrisy? The answer is simple yet profound: it's all about the narrative.

Black Lives Matter protest sign
A person holds a "Black Lives Matter" sign in front of the US District Court in St Paul, Minnesota, on February 24, 2022. - A jury found three former Minneapolis police officers guilty on February 24 of violating the civil rights of George Floyd, the African-American man whose May 2020 murder sparked nationwide protests. Kerem YUCEL / AFP/Getty Images

The narrative is the primary driver of radical leftist politics, the ideological force from which all else flows, and its most salient concept is the ubiquitous "oppressor/oppressed" dichotomy. This narrative, in which a constant victim (people of color, especially black people) is trapped in an everlasting battle with a constant victimizer (white people in general), justifies every act of the "oppressed" and vilifies every act of the "oppressor." It implies a now-infamous tenet of critical social justice: "The question is not 'did racism take place' but rather, 'how did racism manifest in that situation?'"

Let's apply this tenet. In the case of a multiracial executive board, racism is always already manifesting. If black people and white people seem to be co-moderating the organization, the reality is that the black people are a mere front for the white people to more insidiously perpetuate their white supremacy. No other interpretation is possible.

But why the double standard? Don't black antiracists also work with white people who are typically labeled "allies"? Where is the ever-present racism there? The answer, again, lies within the narrative. As the oppressed in this victim narrative, black antiracists and their allies can do no wrong. What's more, whites only earn the label "ally" if they are properly obsequious and consistently genuflect to the blacks with whom—or rather, for whom—they work. So, when this multiracial group of antiracist activists notice another multiracial group of activists and see not white obsequiousness or genuflection, but partnership between blacks and whites, suspicion arises. Within the radical Left's antiracist narrative, white-black cooperation can only take place under one condition: the centering of blacks and marginalization of whites. Anything else is just white supremacy in disguise.

Perhaps most telling is the radical Left's inadvertent and risibly ironic perpetuation of white supremacy. Perhaps the radical Left is getting high on its own supply—meaning it has internalized the very white supremacy it attributes to those who don't embrace its politics. It insists that a black man working with white people on a project outside the radical Left's political purview, who is not constantly reminding his white colleagues of their inherent ignobility, and seems happy and fulfilled in his partnership with them, must be a puppet of a white master. This can be construed, quite easily, as a tacit assertion that white people are, indeed, supreme. That I have well-thought-out, pro-black reasons to think what I think and do what I do is not even a possibility; in what the Left sees as a white supremacist context, I am simply overpowered mentally and intellectually. It would seem, then, that antiracist activists of the radical Left are the true believers in white supremacy.

When you see double standards and racism among the radical Left, don't wonder what in the world they could be thinking, because they are not thinking; they are abiding. They are abiding by narratives that frame every situation as a battle between good and bad, i.e. black and white. Yes, narratives are inevitable, but as a pluralistic civil society, an ideal narrative for America would promote a collaboration in which race is not the primary determinant of one's ability to act. If they were to think beyond this narrative, they could at least entertain the possible benefits of a multiracial coalition dedicated to showcasing and promoting free black thought. Because the portrayal of black people as a monolithic group is a multiracial belief, a multiracial belief in black viewpoint diversity may be the ideal counter-move.

Erec Smith is an associate professor of rhetoric at York College of Pennsylvania. He is also a co-founder of Free Black Thought and a senior fellow for the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.