The Fire Right Now: Ally vs. Accomplice

Onyx Contributor:  Ryan Williams-Virden (@ryan612ne)

Once again the country is faced with the harsh truth of its own brutality. The Baltimore police department severed Freddie Gray’s spine and took him from his family. This happened because when an officer made eye contact with him he had the audacity to run. The officers involved were suspended with pay and the rhetoric surrounding the case has been very sympathetic to the officers. This has resulted in Baltimore’s collective anger boiling over into massive protests which many have labeled a riot. In fact, rioting has dominated the headlines and social media with many excoriating the mainly young, black protesters who participated. I am not going to go into the politics of a riot, you can find that here. I am not interested in pointing out the inherent racism of the criticism of young, poor, and mainly black people being called criminals and thugs (as Barack Obama did) while white rioters get treated with kid gloves, you can find that here. Given these facts, I want to suggest a course of action for Euro-Americans who consider themselves progressive and anti-racist:  We need to contextualize these events in history and unequivocally support these actions, calling out any criticism of them by Europeans.

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Recently there has been criticism of the term ally. This criticism rests on how those who identify as such position themselves to benefit from, and actually require, the very conditions they supposedly are trying to dismantle. This phenomenon is sadly on full display at times like these. Many “allies” and anti-racists have been mega-critical of the uprising happening in Baltimore. They cry for “peaceful protests” and working within the system, at the very most civil disobedience. This approach lays bare their investment in the system. They see the destruction of property as violence, but ignore the fact that much of that property is owned by others and was obtained through a long line of violence. That violence doesn’t count.  They can not wrap their minds around the idea that the system is actually built on oppression and as such can not be reformed. They quote King’s I Have a Dream speech but forget that he called riots “the language of the unheard.” They are comfortable in the system and don’t want to feel guilty about it. They love the system and when it comes down to it they will condemn its destruction. They are will placate by asking “why did he run?” They will ponder with condescending paternalism “why do they destroy their own neighborhoods?” And they will say nothing of the violence and rioting that gave birth to America.


We must not be allies. We must be accomplices, and right now is a perfect opportunity. By standing with those in uprise we are saying we understand that the system is inherently unjust and that it must be drastically re-envisioned. We are acknowledging that this is life and death and that Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Aiyana Jones and all the rest will never be back, but CVS will. We are acknowledging that the distribution of resources and who gets to profit from those resources needs to change. By refusing to call the destruction of property a violence we contribute to a refocusing on the violence of the state. In short, refusing to rein in the birth pangs of revolution is a small but real rejection of the the culture of whiteness and as such is a blow to white supremacy. It is a very tangible way we can affirm that #blacklivesmatter.

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