In an attempt to bring awareness to the Breonna Taylor case, actress Lili Reinhart posted a picture of herself with the caption “Now that my side boob has gotten your attention, Breonna Taylor’s murderers have not been arrested. Demand Justice.” The post was a distasteful attempt at rallying behind the Black Lives Matter Movement, and Reinhart was not the only person who participated in such inappropriate allyship. Instagram users changed the label on a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter to “I can’t believe Breonna Taylor’s killers haven’t been arrested.” Twitter users erased the “Andy” written on Woody from Toy Story’s feet and replaced it with “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
The terribly misguided support of allies has generally disappeared as autumn has arrived, causing a decrease in the awareness needed to pressure the justice system into convicting the murderers for the killings last summer. This performative activism is a problem many activists worried about while #BLM was still trending, and our worst nightmare came true again: People were only allies to Black people for show, to avoid backlash or to put up the front that they are good people. We have fake allyship to thank for the “Justice for” memes and the archived black squares on people’s Instagrams that will reappear with the next headline-worthy killing. Many people, Reinhart included, did not even react to the news that Breonna Taylor’s murderer would only be charged for endangering her neighbors, and not for killing Taylor herself.
Fake allyship is why the Black Lives Matter, #SayHerName and #MeToo movements quickly lose the attention of the media, and the lawmakers who can actually change the systems activists are fighting against. On social media, after the murder of George Floyd, there was a huge demand for allies to show support for their Black peers. Many Black people, myself included, passive-aggressively posted “silence speaks volumes,” or “if you don’t post about [insert injustice here], do not be mad when I unfollow you” and even called out entire races for their lack of support. The Black community was very adamant about gaining support from allies, so it may seem hypocritical for us to be mad about how you gave that support, but it is important that racial injustices are taken seriously, and that is not happening when murders are memefied. I understand that not all allyship is perfect. However, it is important that allies have to truly want to support these movements, and not just look good on Instagram. I have learned through my own mistakes that an ally is willing to work through their wrongs and is open to correction. You need to believe in the cause and be continuously outraged, annoyed or even just a little irritated by how the system affects marginalized people, because this sort of constant allyship is what can truly bring about change.
White allies did not lead the Civil Rights Movement, but their involvement made it impossible to ignore the rights of Black Americans. Many history books won’t say this, but it would have been almost impossible to invoke without non-Black, especially white, allies, because, throughout the history of America, white people have been the ones with power. An example of this is the Freedom Riders: There were originally seven Black and six white activists on the first bus, to show solidarity with the anti-segregation cause. Even today, white allies use their bodies to defend Black and Brown protesters from being injured or arrested by police. When people of color ask for your support, it is because we know we can’t succeed without it — but we do not want you to put on a show. We want you to be angry that human life can be disregarded, that there are injustices affecting us that we can’t overcome just by “pulling ourselves up our bootstraps.” We want to show you that we believe in the American experiment just as much as you do, but the experiment won’t believe in us.
As an ally, remember: Do not be fooled by Breonna Taylor being a current talking point at presidential debates, as it most likely will not amount to any change. Politicians have a history of fake allyship and empty words. And while Joe Biden smiles at you on national television or calls for peace and patience through your Twitter feed, know that if he takes office, that’s all Breonna will be for him — a talking point. I know this. I have cried about it because I know that without real allies and true justice, I will be stuck now and then Googling her image just to stare at her smile, wondering if some little Black girl will do the same to me in the next couple of years, or months or days.