As it relates to fighting white supremacy and racism, I hate the term “ally.” I feel like it’s a way to acknowledge and reward people for being decent enough human beings to speak out against oppression. Even more, it takes the spotlight from the marginalized group and shines it onto the people supposedly there to offer support. Mostly, though, I detest the way white people think they have the power to bestow a title such as “ally” upon themselves, and the way marginalized people are so quick to designate someone an ally without demanding a portfolio of receipts.
“Ally” is defined as “a person or organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity.” With this basic definition, the reason this title is problematic at best is clear. The destruction of white supremacy is not a “particular activity” and the cooperation and help of white people, at least in the sense of protesting with us, is inconsequential to the process. White people should be working within their own communities to deconstruct the system they constructed and maintained. They should be educating themselves on the politics of structural racism. They should be raising their children to reject unearned favor and the oppressive power they inherit.
As such, when my timeline lit up with shares of a stories covering Quentin Tarantino’s attendance at a protest against police brutality in New York City, I was beyond over it. But the nail in the coffin was the praise heaped on Taratino from black people calling him “our ally.” Apparently unlocking the ally achievement in Call of Duty IV: Saving the Negroes requires only showing your face at a march and pledging a minimal matching donation.
Seriously? Is that all it takes from a white person to prove their commitment to eliminating the financial, academic, political and social inequities that weigh down the black collective. What about this man’s history would make you believe he’s anti-racist? This is a man who cannot make a movie without the use of racial slurs. A man who has a sadistic obsession with the word “nigger,” so much so that he wrote and produced a western/comedy about slavery where the word was uttered more than one hundred times (and before y’all start that “that was common during those times bullshit,” Roots is a six-part mini-series and they still managed to say it less over more than 8 hours of film). This is a man who plays a character in one of his movies (Pulp Fiction) who for no contextual or artistic reason goes on a rant about “dead nigger storage.”
No, Quentin Tatantino is no ally of mine. He’s not someone I’m interested in ever having support a movement for my life and the lives of those I love. He’s a racist of the worst type. Any person truly committed to stopping the state-sanctioned murder and abuse of black and brown people by the police wouldn’t say, “But when the black critics came out with savage think pieces about Django, I couldn’t have cared less. If people don’t like my movies, they don’t like my movies, and if they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter.” Surely the opinion of the very people he’s now claiming to stand in solidarity with would matter. Surely critiques from people saying, “The genocide, rape and enslavement of my people are not funny,” would matter. Surely a person who was truly outraged by the systemic violence against black people wouldn’t keep inking films where the most violent, vicious, infamous slur in the American English lexicon is thrown out gratuitously. Surely any person who sees the imminent threat black lives face in this country wouldn’t position himself to repeat the word “nigger” in several films under the guise of acting.
Tarantino, inserted his celebrity into a protest organized by black people and allowed himself to be the focus. He derailed the mission. He’s a bandwagoner. Black people have been writing, telling and showing how police prey on us for more than a century. He had to do some research for Django, so he should’ve learned of the evolution of slave patrols and the Klan into the police. Why now that it’s the popular thing to do does he show up at an event protesting the routine execution of black people by agents of the state weeks after he said he didn’t give a damn about what black critics think of his depiction of their history?
We have to do better. We must stop searching for redeeming qualities in white people who’ve proven themselves racist. We must stop excusing racist depictions of us, the product of a white man’s twisted fantasies, as art. We must not give a pass to a man because he’s employing a few black actors, because if a person is exempt from critique of his work based on employing black actors, then none of should ever have a bad word to say about Tyler Perry who’s employed more black actors than any other filmmaker.
And I understand so many of my people will need more receipts to label him racist, but to that I ask: Why didn’t you require more receipts before you labeled him an ally? Before I vouch for a white person being truly anti-racist, he’ll need more than a backward Kangol and a Wu-Wear sweatsuit. He’ll need to do more than show up at a protest and take pictures. He’ll need to care what black critics think of his narrative about their ancestors. He’ll need to understand that he doesn’t get to reclaim a slur that wasn’t used to oppress his people. He’ll need to demonstrate over decades that he won’t just lend his celebrity for a photo op and trending but that he’s behind the scenes doing the real work to dismantle the house that racism built.