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The role of white women in allyship: ‘I’m taking all my cues from Black women’

Jewel Wicker
·6 min read
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Amid an ongoing racial reckoning across the U.S., Bozoma Saint John, Netflix’s chief marketing officer [CMO], and retired soccer player Abby Wambach recently shared their thoughts and experiences on the topic.

Wambach says there have been several moments in the past year that have forced her to reflect on her privilege and internalized, unconscious racism as a white woman. This includes asking herself why she didn’t push for Black women to be on the U.S. Women’s National Team, which represents the country internationally in soccer.

Abby Wambach and Boz St. John discuss the role white women play in allyship.
Abby Wambach and Boz St. John discuss the role white women play in allyship.

I am grateful that we are much better today than we were 100 years ago. Do I want my daughter to have the same conversations in 30 years? I do not. But, she probably will. Boz St. John, Netflix’s chief marketing officer

The role of white women in allyship

“I’m taking all of my cues from Black women right now,” says Wambach. “If you are listening to this, and you happen to be white, what my suggestion to you is [to] get really still before you start talking. I listen, and I watch, and I get really still, so that I can understand my own personal racism, my own personal contribution to systemic racism in our country. And if we all can do that individually, then maybe we can start working on our families, and then maybe we can start working on our communities. As white people, we've got…a lot of work to do. And we're the ones that have to fix this thing.”

Wambach certainly isn’t alone in reflecting on her privilege as a result of the recent protests ignited by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others.

Still, even as people throughout the country and beyond took to the streets to protest in record numbers, Saint John said she found herself skeptical of some of the things she was seeing on how to be an ally. “Are we in a society in which we're celebrating the mess of racial inequality as a point of pop culture, [or] are we actually looking for the solutions?” she asks, noting that she wants to prevent the word “ally” from becoming a buzzword instead of an action.

Wambach and St. John discussed these issues as a part of Yahoo’s Allyship Pledge program, which brings together leading voices to discuss urgent social justice issues involving race in America, creating actionable tools for supporting others.

Being an “active ally”

Allyship is a consistent and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, by which a person holding privilege and power actively seeks to be anti-racist and to end oppression in solidarity with those who are systemically marginalized.

Jamira Burley, activist and social impact strategist, recently spoke about effective allyship for the Yahoo Allyship Pledge program, noting, “a passive ally is you [caring] about the things I do. An active ally is those making conscious efforts in the world in which they exist to ensure Black liberation is seen as a realistic concept and put into fruition.”

Both Wambach and Saint John participated in a campaign in June that was designed to uplift the voices of Black women amid the ongoing global health pandemic and protests against police brutality. That campaign, Share the Mic, was created by Saint John, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, Glennon Doyle (who is married to Wambach), and Stacey Bendet, and the mission was simple: Black women taking over white women’s Instagram accounts for the day, providing an answer for social media users pondering the ways in which they could be effective allies online without silencing marginalized voices. More than 100 women, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Elaine Welteroth, Julia Roberts and Tarana Burke, participated.

During the recent conversation for the Yahoo Allyship Pledge program between Wambach and Saint John, moderated by Yahoo Life reporter Brittany Jones-Cooper, Saint John said the idea for Share the Mic grew out of a desire to reach a new audience about allyship and racial justice. “We are privileged to be on so many different stages [and] on so many different mics. But, it feels like we’re talking into a wind tunnel. You say the words and they come right back at you, because the people in our audiences agree with us. We weren’t reaching anybody else,” she says. “I don't even know if there's anything in my life that I have felt more proud of than that moment, that one day, which felt so loud. And, subsequently all the action that has come after it.”

Commitment to anti-racism

Also as part of that campaign, Wambach had her Instagram account briefly taken over by scholar and activist Dr. Yaba Blay. She said she was excited to see Blay grow her Instagram following reach as a result, but was also happy about the lessons her audience was able to learn. “The impression that Dr. Blay had on the folks who follow me, which are probably mostly white males, sports guys — if it affected one of those guys to think a little bit about what's going on in the world, to think about Dr. Blay’s experience [and] to think about Dr. Blay as a person, that's the big stuff,” she says.

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Still, even with the work that’s been achieved in recent years, Saint John acknowledged that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to creating effective allies who are committed to being anti-racist. “I am grateful that we are much better today than we were 100 years ago. Do I want my daughter to have the same conversations in 30 years? I do not. But, she probably will,” she says. “I hope that the conversation has moved even just a slight bit forward. And, if that is the case, I will be happy with it. I won't be satisfied, but I'll be happy.”

READ MORE:

Resources to learn more about allyship:

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF AROUND ALLYSHIP:

  • What does the word ‘allyship’ mean to you?

  • What actions are necessary for allyship to be effective and impactful?

  • Do you agree that America needs to face its history to move forward?

    • If so, how can you use your platform to support that?

  • What action can you challenge yourself to take on?

  • Who in your network can you share this information with or challenge to take the pledge with you?