The Lessons of Anne Braden: Learning to be an ally for social justice

 

By Jesseanne Pope

As part of OSU’s celebration of MLK, I attended a screening of the film Anne Braden: Southern Patriot. This film takes us on a journey through the life of Anne Braden, a southern white woman who worked for racial equality during the Civil Rights Movement. Braden recalled the first moment she knew something was wrong with the way different people were treated when the African-American maid who worked in her house brought her daughter along. She reminisced, stating how she saw her hand-me-down clothes on the young child, but they were clearly poorly fitting. As Braden grew up she joined what was called The New South. Braden made a point to distinguish her ideas and the ideas of The New South from that of their parents (which they rejected), especially around racial equality and segregation. Braden made it a point throughout her work to focus on intersectionality, or the understanding of how all of one’s identities intertwine with each other and affect your experience. She told white women, they could not be liberated in their identity as a woman until racial equality was a reality as well.

During her efforts to advance the Civil Rights Movement, mostly in trying to talk to other white people and putting her body out in the active movements, she was arrested and accused of sedition, and belonging to the Communist Party (as many white activists were). Braden scoffed at the idea of reverse racism, and attempted to relate white folks to the civil rights movement through understanding intersectionality. The video also includes clips of Braden speaking for groups, receiving awards, and educating young people; Braden continued to be an educator and activist until the end.

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This film offered a unique story of the experience of a white female activist in a time when women’s voices weren’t often supported or listened to, and white civil rights activists were treated as traitors. From the very beginning Braden was courageous, a strong leader, and very influential; however, she was also aware of her privilege and understood that the place of white people in the Civil Rights Movement was not in the front. She used her privilege to help lift the voices of black activists, she partnered with black activists groups to support them in the way that they needed.

Braden was a prime example of what it means to be an ally. Being an ally is not about being up front, sharing your opinion, making claims and demands, or being the ‘better’ kind of white person. Being an ally is about listening, it’s about learning the stories of people of color, lifting their voices, and supporting them in the way they need without assuming you know what’s best.

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Ally should name be a name you give to yourself as credit for being ‘racially conscious’ or ‘progressive’; ally is a term that those in the oppressed group can give to people outside of the group that are working towards equality with them NOT for them. An ally understands that liberation is important for all of us, because racism negatively affects all of us, just in different ways.

Braden sacrificed many things for work that she felt wasn’t an option. She did civil rights work because it is necessary, and she didn’t see any other way but liberation. She spent time in jail, had her name publicly criticized, traveled many places, and was always involved in some kind of action. She believed that putting your body out into the work is what is needed.

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Braden also notes that it is young people who we need to get on board. There is a clip of her speaking to young kids about her history. This is important for my peers and myself as college students to really connect with. Braden would want us to recognize the power that we have as students to fight for equality, to demand liberation, to facilitate change. There is no time better than the present, with our minds fresh with knowledge and eager for experience, with so much life and passion around us, and with such possibility for diversity. We have access to resources we will never experience once we leave college; the time is now.

Jesseanne Pope is an OSU student and social justice trainer.

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