By Jayanni Webster
Talking with you the other night in our Charlotte hotel room, I watched as you opened your heart and expressed your frustrations in knowing that you benefited from white privilege. I sensed you felt limited by your skin color because for you, being an ally was not enough, being an “associate” to the struggle was not enough. Like you said, you have the option of leaving this ride and going back to your home and not deal with issues of racism and racial oppression while others on the bus, like myself, do not.
I know you will continue to wrestle with these feelings and continue to do the right thing. But I want to extend a helping hand because I saw in you, in that moment, an immeasurable amount of love and maturity.
If you look up the word ally a few phrases come up:
- To unite formally
- To associate or connect by some mutual relationship, as resemblance or friendship
- To enter into an alliance, join or unite.
- A person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose
Joan Mulholland, a white student on the original Freedom Rides, is an inspiration to us all. She in my eyes is not just an ally and quite frankly has never been. She’s a Freedom Rider. The ratio of black and white students who participated in the rides was nearly 50/50. In being an ally, Joan and all these others made a dangerous sacrifice—facing bodily harm, condemnation and death along with black students. That load was and is still a heavy one. Being an ally does not make them less valuable than those whose rights they were and are still fighting for.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualist concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”
Kaitlyn you are living. And to be alive is to grapple with these issues like you did. Continue to be that activist, that innovator and problem solver because you are making a difference.
I learned as a Facing History and Ourselves student that to recognize a common human struggle and to take action about it is to be an “upstander” rather than a bystander to injustice. For me, an “upstander” goes beyond the realm of being an ally and really speaks to what Joan and others did and what we should inspire future generations to do as well.