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Six things to do right now to be a better ally

Louisville Seminary professor has a half-dozen strategies white people can use to accompany their siblings of color

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Shannon Craigo-Snell teaches Theology at Louisville Seminary.

LOUISVILLE — Dr. Shannon Craigo-Snell literally co-wrote the book on becoming an ally in the struggle for justice. So when she states that’s easier said than done for white people trying to be allies with their siblings of color — as opposed to straight people looking to do something similar for their LGBTQ+ siblings — it’s time to take notice and take action.

Action was the prescribed action Friday when Craigo-Snell, a Theology professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, led an online workshop put on together with Mid-Kentucky Presbytery.

“When straight folks declare themselves as allies, somehow that has helped,” she said. “The same is not true of white people trying to be allies to Black folks. It often has ended in conflict.”


Craigo-Snell and Christopher J. Doucot, co-authors of the 2017 book published by Westminster John Knox Press, “No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice,” tried to explore why that was the case. Once they’d submitted their manuscript in November 2016 — at about the same time that Donald J. Trump was elected the nation’s 45th president — their editor asked them to “take out the academic stuff and put in what to do right now.”

A revised chapter in the manuscript yielded six things allies — although the authors prefer the term “conspirators” — can do right away to help in the struggle for racial justice.


“Whatever issue is pulling on your spirit — people who are houseless or hungry, issues in the justice system or educational access — there are people here or Louisville or Chicago or pretty much anywhere you are who have been working on that for a long time,” Craigo-Snell said. “It’s not our job as conspirators to figure out how to fix the problem. We connect to people already addressing the problem.”

Show up “and tell them, ‘I care about this issue and I’d like to be of use. Is there anything that needs to be done?’” she suggested. “Wouldn’t you welcome someone who showed up to make sandwiches and sweep the floor?”


Listen to others’ voices, “and instead of inserting your own voice, repeat theirs with citation in the spaces you have access to,” she said. Pepper social media posts with the same goal in mind, she said: “Let me retweet that with citation to help it reach a larger audience,” she said.

Another tip: Start filling your bookshelf and social media feed with the voices of Asian, Black, Latinx, trans and queer authors, “and not just about racial issues,” she said. “At the end of the day I want to read a formulaic mystery novel.” As it turns out, “people of color and queer people have written formulaic mystery novels. Read books by people who don’t look like you.”


This, Craigo-Snell said, “is the easy one.”

“Call your [elected] representative and say, ‘I’m paying off a mortgage at this address and I would like you to vote this way.’” Talk to teachers and principals about the textbooks being used in the classroom. “The rooms you have access to,” she said, “are the places you can amplify voices and advocate.”


This potentially live-saving practice got its start in Latin American countries under oppressive regimes. “It was good folks in North America who wanted to help” by accompanying people in danger, she said. “A white body with an American passport can help assure disappearances won’t occur.” A word of caution, she said: “The spaces where you put your body are uncomfortable and possibly dangerous.”


Here Craigo-Snell is thinking of something akin to the Impedimenta jinx used by Harry Potter and friends to slow down those who would do them harm. “It can be important to impede the process of injustice,” she said. A well-known example is the Sanctuary Movement, which “slows down the process until the legal work can be done,” Craigo-Snell said. “There are ways we can impede justice in moments where it’s not ethical not to.”


To Craigo-Snell, the best example is Pride, “people celebrating being gay, doing it flamboyantly and joyfully.”

Injustice “is based on fear,” she said. “Joy is the opposite of fear. Food, dancing and silliness break down barriers.”

While she was still in seminary, Craigo-Snell said a professor wrote an opinion that LGBTQ people should not be ordained, an opinion other professors shared. “Students who were LGBTQ were in a terrible position,” she said. But they had an ally: a “crazy smart” professor “who looked like a witch and struck fear in our hearts, but she was a wonderful cook.”

This professor spent three days “baking every dessert you could think of,” then held a “laying on of food” event for the seminary’s LGBTQ community, who came over to dine on dessert and feel the support and love. “So many classmates said that’s what got them through, those dessert parties,” she said.

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