Banner-Carrying and Allies

A recent essay by John Eligon in the New York Times’ “Race/Related” series, titled “Black Stress Matters,” addresses the rise of the role of self-care among activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.

From the murders of activists, to suicides, to Erica Garner’s death by heart attack at the age of 27, Eligon reports on how, unlike justice movements decades ago, taking care of oneself has risen in importance for activists of all kinds amid the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and the reemergence of injustice on many fronts in recent years.

Investing in the long-term efforts for social change means activists must pace themselves, learn to sustain themselves and others, and commit to rearranging aspects of their lives in order to prioritize an active social conscience.

The essay reminded me of something a church member lamented to me years ago about how, as a lesbian, she had tired of being expected by the straight members of her Open and Affirming UCC congregation to be the primary banner-carrier for LGBT rights along with a handful of other lesbians, gay men, and trans folks.

It was time for allies to step up and claim their own stake in justice, she said.

It also reminded me, as a liberal, of the trap socially privileged people unwittingly set for minorities when we push for inclusion, equity, and justice but end up settling for “being for the right things” instead of real change, personally and of the systems that perpetuate the “isms” we decry.

As a straight, white, cisgender, Protestant Christian male, my potential as an ally is great, but only if I invest long-term and carry the banner for and with those for whom I’m advocating. No one has greater luxury than I to be able to opt in or out of change movements at will.

The line between convenience and commitment is thin, but important.

Allies can’t wear advocacy as an accessory. It has to become part of who we are, or we are not worthy of the name, “ally.”

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