So You Want to Be an Ally: But what are you really trying to accomplish?

Alright, bear with me folks, because I dove deep into critical race theory during my undergrad and I have a Lot to say. 

I’m sure that almost 100% of the time, white bloggers look to support books by marginalized authors with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, due to the undeniable, incontestable truth that they are white, they wade into unknown waters, often without equipping themselves with basic knowledge through a little research. At first glance, this might seem harmless – after all, I truly don’t expect anyone to know everything there is to know about every diverse culture in the world – but how hard is it to put in a little effort? Or, even better, when you aren’t educated about something, why not defer to someone who does know what they’re talking about and share what they have to say instead?

And yet, despite the fact that white bloggers lack the range (truly no shade intended – this is just a matter of life experience) to fairly and accurately review and promote diverse books, they are praised for doing the bare minimum in advocating for marginalized voices. This is a pervasive problem that extends far beyond the book community, in which people insist on speaking up on behalf of marginalized voices, and end up speaking over them instead. This redirects the focus of the audience to white people instead of the people of color they claim they are trying to help, and as a result, we see the platforms of white bloggers grow rapidly while the platforms of people of color remain more or less stagnant. 

White Privilege and Getting to Speak Your Mind

It’s no secret that book influencers of color have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition that white bloggers/booktubers/bookstagrammers do (although it is a fact that people are all too willing to overlook), and a lot of that has to do with the fact that people of color are put under a specific kind of strict scrutiny that white people get to escape. 

Let me elaborate. A subtle but sinister aspect of white privilege is being able to exist as an individual, meaning that white individuals are not expected to represent white people everywhere. People of color do not get this luxury. But wait Lauren, surely people don’t think that people of color are a monolith and that one individual can represent an entire race that consists of many diverse cultures? Hahaha, you would think, right? RIGHT??? Sadly, no. There is a very common trend of white folks taking one person of color’s experience or opinions about a book by an author of color (this can be any form of media, but for the purpose of this post I’ll focus on books), and using it as an excuse to avoid the book altogether. As a result, many bloggers of color feel the need to word their reviews of books by marginalized authors extremely carefully so that their reviews cannot be used to harm the book’s rating. This is a huge responsibility that is thrown onto the shoulders of BIPOC, where they know that a negative review by them can make or break a book for other potential readers, and they still try their absolute hardest to give these books their best chance.

At the same time, white reviewers show little to no qualms about not finishing books by authors of color and leaving a 1-2 star rating, with their only justification being that they simply couldn’t relate to the world-building/characters. (I personally find it funny that these same people who can relate to faeries and dragons and mermaids so well can’t relate to worlds based off of real cultures…but I digress.) Time and time again, reviews by white readers are prioritized over the voices of people who actually share the identities represented in these books, and these books suffer as a result.

We Value You(r ability to educate us)!

Additionally, when the voices of readers of color are prioritized and listened to, it still comes at a cost to those individuals because now, their value is directly tied to how white people benefit from their emotional labor. Shealea @ Shut Up, Shealea recently shared her personal experience with this in her post, 7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Book Blogging. In the post, Shealea discusses how she noticed her engagement skyrocket once she began to champion diverse books and raise awareness about issues pertaining to communities of color. As a newer blogger, I’ve definitely noticed this trend as well – I’ve had people tell me they’re sorry about racism but they’re glad it prompted me to curate a list of book recommendations in the same paragraph. I know they mean well, but in the end, what I really get from their comments is: “Sorry you have to deal with racism, but I’m happy it still benefits me!”

White people are all too ready to come into the comments or DMs of people of color and say something along the lines of “hey, I would love to talk about/be educated on this issue!” Seriously, y’all are way too comfortable doing this for my liking. It is not the responsibility of people of color to educate you and act as your primary source for All Things Race. People of color don’t exist for the sole reason of correcting your mistakes and making you feel like a good person for trying to educate yourself. Did you know that diversity consultants charge $400-$600 for an hour of their work? So, unless you’re tipping creators of color on ko-fi or buying them things from their wishlists, Google is free – use it

People of color can be guilty of this too, and I think it’s important for people to admit their ignorance and actively work to educate themselves. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to learn and grow, but you need to lay the groundwork for yourself instead of asking people of color to do all of the labor for you. 

Performative Allyship – It’s Easier to Spot Than You Think

Another one of the glaring issues here is when white bloggers use popular books by authors of color for diversity points, but quickly show that they do not actually care about the marginalized identities of the author and/or characters as they would like people to believe. They out themselves by mispronouncing the author’s last name, whitewashing characters in fancasts, and altogether exhibiting a complete lack of respect for people of color. Of course, this includes but is not limited to disabled rep and LGBTQ rep as well, but I’ve generally found that white readers in particular are more likely to focus on the forms of marginalized representation that they can identify with, and will erase the ethnicities of characters of color in favor of the identities that they hold themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, people of color can also be guilty of whitewashing or misrepresenting characters’ ethnicities! Generally speaking, though, people of color tend to be held accountable for this way more than their white counterparts. 

It’s also extremely telling when white bloggers proudly declare that they boost marginalized voices, but then turn around and sign up for blog tours or other opportunities that are supposed to prioritize own-voices readers. Now, the term own-voices is a little tricky because of how people (mis)use it, but it was originally intended to refer to authors with marginalized identities writing about their own experiences (i.e. a trans Latinx author writing a trans Latinx character). Based on this original definition, own-voices readers would align with the identities represented in the book in a similar way. Basically, this means that if a book is by an author of color and is told from the perspective of a character of color, white people are not own-voices readers.* In my opinion, this is a pretty simple concept that should be easy to grasp, and yet I consistently see white people on tours promoting books by authors of color. I understand that signing up for these tours seems like the most obvious way to boost diverse books, but by signing up as a white person, you are actively signing up to take a spot that could have gone to a blogger of color.

Instead of signing up for these tours yourself, consider boosting the posts made by bloggers of color. Use your platform to actually uplift underrepresented voices instead of trying to do it yourself. You don’t get to make a name for yourself by saying you advocate for diverse books if you’re simultaneously taking opportunities away from the people those books represent.

* And yes, this extends to queer rep as well – a queer white person and a queer person of color have vastly different lived experiences because of intersectionality, meaning that while people can share certain identities, it is important to note how a single person’s multiple identities intersect to shape their individual lived experience. Queerness does not erase whiteness. For further reading on the boundaries that queer white folks need to be mindful of when interacting with works by queer people of color, I highly recommending checking out Nina Varela’s guest post on The Quiet Pond.

Being a “Good White Person”

Hoo, boy. This is where it gets a little dicey for me, because I never want to discourage people from making an effort and trying their best, but some folks are a little too willing to display their white guilt for everyone to see. The term white guilt is pretty self-explanatory: white people feel guilty for what white people have historically done – and still do – to people of color. I genuinely don’t think people make a conscious effort to exude white guilt, but the fact remains that white guilt is a blocking mechanism that prevents actual progress from being made

Similarly to asking people of color to educate you, expressing your guilt or regret about being a white person places the responsibility of others to comfort you and make you feel better about yourself. It also displays a certain level of ignorance, especially when you’re saying something as seemingly innocent as, “I can’t believe anyone would do this!” Trust me, people of color don’t have the privilege of not believing or even expecting harmful behavior from others. Your surprise is directly tied to your white privilege – so please, think before you speak. 

This brings me to my next point. Stop apologizing to people of color on behalf of “your people.” Not only is this really weird, it’s a performative way for you to try and absolve yourself of your white guilt while placing the emotional responsibility on the person of color you’re apologizing to. (Also, like, what do you think a simple apology is going to do for centuries of violence? Are you thinking??) 

At the end of the day, being a good ally isn’t about you, and this goes for any kind of allyship. It shouldn’t be about your platform, your reading progress, your opportunities, you. It is one thing to say that you support diverse books and marginalized creators, but when your platform grows directly because of it and you aren’t actively boosting people of color, you aren’t the ally you think you are


Maybe this makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t. But either way, if you’re a white person reading this, I hope it gave you something to think about. 

If you found this post helpful in any way, consider tipping me on ko-fi or checking out my Amazon wishlist.

32 thoughts on “So You Want to Be an Ally: But what are you really trying to accomplish?

  1. LAUREN i love u so much holy shit love uuuu ❤ this post is so well-written and literally just??? really needed to be said bc white people really just cannot take a hint!!

    i always find it so frightening about how white people are always so subtly (and sometimes flat out) manipulative of BIPOC identities,,, i mean i’ve only been in the community for like three months but you can tell that apparently our “value” is inherently tied to how useful we are to Them. are we talking about how racism has hurt us??? our we stripping our identities and letting white people scrutinize us?? are we always making valuable social commentary??? because APPARENTLY if we are not providing emotional labor 24/7 we are not valuable!

    this is literally trauma porn and i fucking hate it.

    ur point abt being a good white person was so hard-hitting because everyone has seen this happen on twitter. so. so. frequently. we’ve all seen that one white person who “apologizes for their race” and “cannot believe someone would that” and idk that just pisses me off so much. like ma’am maybe u can’t believe that racism is so far-reaching but when i was six this girl refused to let me sit next to her because her daddy told her that indian people are thieves, so save the naive, wide-eyed story for someone else ❤

    honestly, the only thing white people have is audacity.

    anyways, i loved this post! thank you for taking the time to write it. ❤ ily! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. SARA i’m so glad it resonated with you!!

      i think people seriously misunderstand how much harm they can do by trying to help while still being uninformed or misinformed and try to make themselves feel better by laying all of their feelings on poc which is just?? no lmao!

      i’m so sorry you had to experience that. racism is taught at such a young age and even as adults people can fail to question it. white innocence is always upheld at the expense of children of color.

      i love you!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lauren I love u, u killed it on this, I’m spreading this everywhere. it’s disgusting that you have to talk about this, but when you talk about it you TALK ABOUT IT!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all, I love you.
    Second of all, can I just mention that comments/public “apologies” also weigh heavily on BIPOC because there’s the pressure of not looking like an asshole if we don’t approve the comment and offering you ways to “be better” and the emotional ties that come with still being urged by a white person to accept their apology on behalf of everyone they’ve harmed (and are STILL HARMING BY MAKING OF BIG SHOW OF THEIR GUILT) lmaooo just a thought
    and the thought of being a “good white person” is so…misguided to put it nicely. not everyone is an asshole. AND YET, you could have the best of intentions and still be uninformed and lacking the initiative to become informed, which falls on others to deal with your identity crisis when we’ve been going through our own since, i don’t know, the birth of colonialism??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i love YOU! and seriously those apologies are almost always another attempt at a guilt trip and definitely reinforce the idea that BIPOC have to be the bigger person in every situation to make sure white people stay comfortable 🤭 also like….idk…ARE there good white people?? or are “good white people” just the ones who are semi-decent and do what should be the standard when it comes to anti-racist work?? i am Thinking!!

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  4. Dear Lauren,

    Okay, then… So… this has been my dilemma for a while now. I’m Jewish (so I guess that’s almost white), and yes, I do read an inordinate amount of books set just before, during and after WWII, but I don’t limit myself to only those books or only Jewish writers (although some non-Jewish ones screw up BIG time when they write about Jewish things, and that pisses me off). I get the whole “promote diverse authors” thing, and all the good intentions surrounding it, but… Why do I feel guilty when I just want to read books whose subject matter or stories interest me? I mean, I don’t really care what the race or gender of the author is, as long as the book is well written and interesting. It just makes me feel like people are trying too hard to be PC. I mean, I prefer adult, literary fiction, and lean towards historical, women’s fiction. I do read contemporary fiction as well, but again, I prefer adult, literary, women’s fiction for these as well. Because of this, maybe my list of authors isn’t all that diverse as it could be, but there you are. It isn’t like I avoid diverse authors, and when I mentioned this on my own blog, I got comments from bloggers who said I really must try these other genres because otherwise, I’m not doing my duty to promote diverse authors. Am I a racist because I happen to prefer the types and genres of books that just don’t seem to have that many diverse authors contributing to them? Again, as long as a book is well written and interesting, I really don’t care what the race or gender of the author is!

    Signed,
    Frustrated!

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    1. Hey there! I guess I’ll start out with mentioning that all the genres you mention have plenty of books by authors of color, so finding diverse books within your preferred genre shouldn’t be an issue. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading mostly books you personally relate to, but if those are the ONLY books you’re reading, you need to expand your horizons. Books are just one of the ways we can learn about other people’s lived experiences, but they are one of the most powerful tools we have. And then I suppose the most important question to ask yourself is – what books do you consider well written and interesting? Why don’t you consider certain books to be well written and interesting? And if you find a trend in that you don’t consider books by authors of color to be well written or interesting, you need to examine your internal bias.

      These are just a few places to start. I suggest reading some nonfiction on anti-racism as well, which will explain internal bias and how to combat it much more thoroughly than I can on my own time right now. I hope this helps and provides a starting point for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Look, I’ve spent my whole working life in the non-profit sector, with human rights organizations, that work to combat racism and build a shared society. I truly believe that all people were created equal, and I don’t believe that the level of melanin in your skin, or the religion you practice, or the gender of the person you love makes you a better or worse person. But I appreciate your suggestions, I really do. I just think you’re misunderstanding me. Trust me, I read novels about lots of different cultures and experiences, and something well written is just that – well written. The race or gender or religion of the author has no influence on that – either they’re talented writers or they’re not. I’ve read books by authors of many different races and genders and religions. Some I’ve loved, some I’ve liked, some I haven’t, but I don’t think that their race, gender or whatever had any influence on my enjoying or not enjoying the book. Do you see my point? I judge books by their quality, not by their author’s race or gender or whatever. Isn’t that what we all should be doing?

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      2. Hi – with all due respect, I did understand what you were trying to say but I feel like you misunderstood both my comment and the point of the post. The concept of good writing is extremely rooted in internal bias and notions of white supremacy. I think it would also be helpful for you to check out essays on “colorblindness” and why this approach isn’t as helpful as people might think it is, especially in historically white-dominated spaces. Authors of color face a lot more barriers to getting traditionally published than white authors and their race does matter, because it shapes how they are treated by publishing and readers.

        This is a much more nuanced, in-depth conversation than I’m willing to continue in the comments of this post, but I sincerely hope you take my suggestions to heart and research articles that will answer your questions without relying on my free labor.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I will take your suggestions, thank you. However, I’m not sure I can agree that the concept of good writing is rooted in white supremacy and racism. I’ve read books by diverse authors that were both good and bad, just like I’ve read books by white authors that were both good and bad (and OMG some “famous” white authors really should be tossed onto the trash heap, if you ask me). Yes, absolutely I agree that diverse authors are discriminated against by publishers, while they promote books by authors who aren’t worthy of the hype, but that they think are more “marketable” because they’re white. That needs to change.

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      4. One more thing… I just want you to know that in my personal life, I have spent my whole career (over 30 years – I’m recently retired), working for human rights, non-profit organizations, fighting racism and trying to build a more equal, shared society for all. I fervently support #BlackLivesMatter and the LGBTQ+ community in every way I can, each and every day. But no matter how much we do to try to make this world more inclusive and accepting of everyone, we all have our own bias, and when we read novels, we cannot help but bring our own personal experiences to those stories. We can only hope that when we do so, we accept those stories that are from different cultures than our own, and don’t judge these books unfairly because of our own narrow, personal experiences.

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      5. One more thing… my mother told me the story of when she wanted to become a professional musician, and she was prevented from doing so because she was a woman. She gave up playing because of it. But her best friend didn’t, and eventually, orchestras began auditioning people from behind curtains, where the judges couldn’t see the gender or the race of the player. It was only after that when her friend got her first orchestral position. What I would like to see is a virtual curtain put up between the author and the reader (also between the author and the publishers, for that matter), so we don’t judge the author by what or who they are, but only by their talent. When that happens, we’ll all be reading more diversely because everyone will be judged by their ability to tell a good story and not by who they are or what they are. Do you see what I’m saying?

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  5. YES times a million!! I wish I didn’t have to be a point person for all of my white blogger friends. Also, the white people in these comments insisting that they aren’t racist is *chef’s kiss* 🤡

    Liked by 1 person

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