Understanding True Allyship

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of spending a couple of hours in conversation with my amazing family friend Morgan Walker about race, allyship, and growing up in the Midwest. Morgan’s parents are some of my parents’ closest friends, and our families have spent tons of time together over the years. Her parents’ relationship has served as one of my north stars of steadfast love, even in the midst of hardship, and as a mixed race couple who met in central Missouri and were married in the 80s, their relationship has seen some hardship. What follows is an attempt to capture that conversation with Morgan a few weeks ago.

Morgan, a self-described actor, creator, lover of life and expert at experience, recently moved back to KC after COVID shut down the NYC theatre scene. Since being back home, Morgan has been actively participating in the KC Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations. I reached out to her in the midst of the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent unrest to offer Morgan this platform — a place where her important voice could be amplified out into our beloved community of moms. I wanted to understand more about her life experiences, growing up in the same community I had (albeit almost 20 years later), what her parents had done well, what changes she hopes to see, and, selfishly, what wisdom she could offer me as the white mom of a person of color (POC). As I expected, our conversation was heartfelt, illuminating and full of insight.

While my ~1,000 words here can’t begin to cover what Morgan shared with me, I’d love to highlight a few of her thoughts and opinions that struck me as a mom. Here is a summary of our conversation and what I learned from Morgan that I think is valuable to any parent.

Just love people for who they are. That’s all.

As a millennial living in NYC, Morgan’s life has been filled with peers who are gender fluid, racially diverse, and all over the LGBTQ+ spectrum. They have big conversations about important issues, they take action to affect change, and their lives certainly are not all about Instagram and TikTok.

“If millennials can be welcoming of all types of people, ‘adults’ should be able to do the same. It’s not hard. Just love people. That’s all.”

As a parent, it’s OK to learn on the job.

At 24, Morgan appreciates that her mom and dad have always been open to conversation and consistently acknowledge that she may know more about a topic than they do. Even better, they are able to allow their minds to be changed when they are presented with new information. From my perspective, Morgan’s parents have been practicing this for decades.

When I was a teenager, Morgan’s parents engaged me in long, deep conversations in which I could share my thoughts and I was never once embarrassed into thinking I had nothing to contribute because I was just a kid. This was so very valuable for me.

Our life experiences aren’t all equal.

“You can’t tell kids that everyone is treated equally. It is not true in our current reality. That is not how all people act, it’s not how the world treats us, and it’s important to have discussions, slowly but surely, so our kids understand the world as it is, as well as their role in our collective attempts to make things better.”

White parents have to do the work of raising anti-racists who understand their privilege and will do whatever they can to even the playing field, in pursuit of not just equality but equity. Parents of POC have to do the work of building their children’s self-esteem, fortifying their worth, but also preparing them for the discomfort and dangers the world may throw at them.

For young children of color, in Morgan’s experience, there’s a time when you stop being cute. In teaching our POC children that they are equal, that they can have extravagant goals and achieve them, that the world will see them without color… that’s all well and good if it comes with an honesty about how the world may treat them. For kids who don’t understand that reality, life can be idyllic until they find themselves facing a racially-defining moment. Morgan worries for those POC who haven’t had one of those moments — that their moment will come by way of a dangerous situation and their assumption that the world will treat them as it would a white person… she worries they will pay dearly for it.

Being fair is treating everyone differently.

“Teaching our children to ‘not see color’ isn’t healthy. It’s also not true. EVERYONE sees color. It may not matter to you, but it should.”

It should occur to all of us to evaluate any playing field — in school, in the workplace, in society, in places of worship — to understand if everyone’s being given a fair shot. The image below, while controversial, is what we can all work to achieve. This also pairs well with one of my own personal mantras, “the titanium rule” — treat others how you’d like to be treated, keeping others’ needs and preferences in mind.

My child is your child. That’s true allyship.

When he’s in your house, my son is your son. He hears what you say, he watches how you treat him. When we’re out in public, there should be no such thing as other people’s children. Speak out when you see racism occurring before your eyes. Stand watch when you see a BIPOC pulled over by the police.

“Use your whiteness as their shield. Look out for each other. Vote for policies that seek to achieve equity for all, not just benefits for some. Give everyone a fair shake, even if your reputation is riding on it. This is true allyship.”

Thank you, Morgan, for sharing your experience and wisdom with the world. I am not your parent, but I am so proud of the person you are. It’s been my joy and honor to witness your becoming.

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Born & raised in the KC metro, I now live in OP with my husband, 8yo son, goofy Golden mix & grouchy geriatric cat. After graduating from KU & spending over a decade as a buttoned-up corporate person, I quit my job, pierced my nose & hunkered down to raise a kiddo. Here we are, 6 years later, & I love spending my days writing, volunteering & planning our next far-flung adventure.

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