Time is infinite. But not for us. The protests we’re seeing around the country today are organized and carried out by a population that cannot wait any longer. We are tired of nominal, symbolic, incrementalist approaches to racial justice. A change must come now, not later.
Black voices have led the movement, of course, and non-Black allies are doing what they can to amplify them. That effort has to include the creation of space for those who should be heard, followed and given positions of influence. As a practical matter, this can be tricky; well-intentioned actions like #BlackoutTuesday, which was supposed to clear Instagram for Black Lives Matter, sometimes have negative outcomes. However, we may have a useful rule of thumb, or slogan. It’s the inverse of Rep. Maxine Waters’ procedural comment — ”Reclaiming my time” — that went viral in her 2017 grilling of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who was trying to run out the clock in order to dodge questions.
That is, a white ally can yield their time.
We saw a lot of this maneuver when the Los Angeles Police Commission hosted a public Zoom session in which the city’s residents took the opportunity to rail against the LAPD in explicit terms. After quickly demanding the department be defunded and Chief Michael Moore removed from his post, or emphasizing the unchecked violence of cops in the streets, a caller would sign off with the phrase “I yield my time,” perhaps adding some colorful obscenities as a flourish.
The yielding of time signals a consciousness of how little we have — and the importance of leaving some for those who too often go unheard. It is a way of sharing an intangible but vital resource. It acknowledges that white people in particular ought to quit extemporizing and arrive at a simple conclusion: Say your piece and get out of the way so the next citizen can speak.
Another version of this tactic is to quite literally step aside. Alexis Ohanian, the white millionaire co-founder of Reddit married to the black tennis star Serena Williams — they have a young daughter together — has announced his departure from the website’s board and urged that he be replaced with a Black candidate. “I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now,” he explained, and he’s right: We have to accelerate the drive toward real equality by ensuring that all are represented at the highest levels of industry, government and culture. That is how we set the stage for better decisions and consensus.
It’s always a good idea to ask yourself “Do I need to be talking right now?” when you are. Silence isn’t always appropriate, but it is a virtue in the right moments — most of all if you mark that silence by indicating who else is waiting to speak. “I yield my time” is an effective motto of generosity and solidarity when time is of the essence.
Go ahead, give it up. And start really listening.