Mutual Recognition and Being an Ally

The Black Lives Matter movement has been in the spotlight the last couple of months, after the murder of George Floyd. It has sparked waves of activism as seen through the protests and sharing of information on social media platforms that work to battle police brutality and the systemic racism that our country was built upon. It has also served as a time to remind white people of their privilege and how they can acknowledge that privilege to be ally to the black community.

There are many characteristics that come to mind when we talk about being an ally; empathy, support, decentering yourself, and listening. Most of these qualities are required to be a good ally. However, I am going to take an anti-empathy stance.

Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings, understand their situation. In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, the white population can not possibly understand what it is like to be Black in America. We can educate ourselves, listen to Black voices, and support Black-owned businesses, but we will never truly be able to empathize.

Jessica Benjamin, a psychoanalyst, coined the term mutual recognition. Mutual recognition is recognizing the humanity in another person while they recognize your humanity. Your individualism feeds off of these interactions with others. The theory of mutual recognition can be used to explain how to be a good ally, without claiming to understand.

Recognition does not require understanding. Recognition requires accepting the humanity of the movement and listening to the voices that lead it. We, as white people, are able to check our privilege while recognizing the trauma that Black bodies have faced and are continue to face in our country. We show our support by applying Benjamin’s theory, to view the Black Lives Matter movement as a living, breathing, human demand for change.

4 thoughts on “Mutual Recognition and Being an Ally

  1. Molly H

    Estelle I think your post is very important. As a white person, I never will have to endure what people of color go through on a daily basis. However, there is still a lot that we can do in order to promote mutual recognition. We need to understand that we have privilege and use it for good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maggie Rose B

    I think that this was an interesting take on what being an ally means. While I don’t necessarily believe that people need to fully understand another person’s experiences in order to empathize with them, I do think it is important to recognize that white people, myself included, will never understand what it is like to live as a Black person in America. I like what you wrote about how white people can recognize the experiences of Black people even while being unable to understand what it feels like to have those experiences.

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  3. nina a

    Estelle, this is excellent. I love how articulate and blunt this is. I have experienced the same qualms about using the term empathy in relation to allyship, and I think this really helped me understand that that is valid. As a white person, I do my best to listen, learn, support, and empower. I do not need to be able to empathize, or completely understand, to be an ally. We do not need to be able to feel the trauma to use our white privilege to the advantage of the BLM movement. I hope that made sense.

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  4. ohess4

    I like the “living breathing” description. The worst part of humanity is we always assume the “other” has some end goal in mind. We don’t, we’re simply trying to make it better. Every negative opinion of BLM seems to stray towards riots now, which is absolutely stupid. I’ve read somewhere that riots are the voice of the unheard. When you muffle the voices of those asking for help, you can’t be surprised when they do more than just use their voices.

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