The Menlo Roundtable

The Fragility of White Allyship: Failure to Break Cycles of Power, Privilege, and Oppression

In the wake of the brutal murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, as well as the blatant mistreatment of those like Christian Cooper, Black Americans took to the streets to protest this past summer, and they were joined en masse by White Americans. Consequently, many are actively searching for ways to be anti-racist every day, not just when a police officer presses his knee onto a Black man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

In this period of great reckoning and White revelation, those who benefit from the privilege and power of their racial birthright are attempting to reconcile the ghosts of our nation’s sordid past with opportunities for a more perfect and just union in the future. But Pimentel and other Black activists long dedicated to the movement wonder: is protesting trendy for White people, or will their commitment to allyship endure?

For more than a hundred years, Southern Gothic authors have grappled with stories of attempted and failed White allyship. Specifically, Erksine Caldwell and Flannery O’Connor provide valuable insights into the consequences of White paralysis that can help guide present-day efforts to dismantle systems of oppression. In Caldwell’s “Kneel to the Rising Sun” (1935) and O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge” (1965), failed racial solidarity reveals that successful and holistic White allyship depends on emotion and reason working in tandem. Although protagonists Lonnie and Julian exist in disparate historical periods and locations, their failed solidarity similarly hampers progress and perpetuates racial hierarchies.

Photo: Carol Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress (