Ally Theater

“You are safe here.”

“You belong.”

These are signs I pass on my daily morning walk with my dog.

Puh-leez. <eyeroll> <side eye> <eyeroll> <more side eye>

Back in December hateful graffiti was found in several bathrooms of our self-proclaimed progressive public high school  in Cambridge, MA. Although admin did not share the actual contents of the graffiti with faculty, my students showed me images of the swastika and handwritten red letters referencing “Trump” and “southern rituals” that were widely circulated on social media.

Since then, signs like the above have been posted around the school and in the community.

I’m suspicious of signs that announce a benevolent allyship. I’m not impressed by people who think that posting a sign is action. It smacks of performance and a white-centered desire for allyship cookies. What a privilege it is to believe in the dream that announcing “you belong” means we are good people.

I think of a student who wrote about her fear of being pushed into the subway tracks every time she rides the train. She is Muslim. She is Black. She wears a hijab. She stoically shared with me that she has mapped out escape routes in every train station, in the event of being pushed into the tracks, just in case.

This student shared her story in response to the safety pin allyship theater.

So you want to be an ally? Just the other day, as a trustee in my condominium association, I received an email complaint from a resident in which she repeatedly makes anti-Muslim, anti-Black, sexist, racist, and xenophobic comments. Not one of the other trustees called it out for what it was. And yet, I’m pretty sure my neighbors fancy themselves allies. Some even marched for women.

In school today, at a mandatory training session for faculty, we were asked what steps we could each take to actively combat hate speech and bigotry in our school community.

Someone tossed out, “Encourage students to say hello to one another.”

At this point, a colleague of color shared her story. Although she is not new to the district, this is her first year in the high school. She noted how common it is for colleagues to pass her every day in the hallway and never greet her. So, before we can tell students to greet one another, the adults of the building need to practice this themselves.

Until I see more colleagues take action to decolonize the curriculum, until the school demolishes the de facto segregation along college prep/honors tracks, until hiring and retaining more faculty of color becomes a reality, I’m not giving any cookies to people who post signs.