The Deaths of Devonte Hart and his Siblings is Why We Don’t Trust White Allies
The Harts were hideous monstrosities of unbounded proportions.
[Content Warning: child abuse, anti-Blackness, state violence, murder of Black children, suicide.]
Years of reported child abuse claims, including physical harm and starvation, recently culminated in the death of an entire family. Sarah and Jennifer Hart drove their SUV off a California roadside cliff with their adopted children inside. Three of the children were found among the car wreckage along with the two women — Markis (19), Abigail (14), and Jeremiah (14). The other three remain unfound and are presumed dead, possibly washed out to sea. They are Hannah (16), Sierra (12), and Devonte (15).
Investigators now believe that the crash was intentional, citing the fact that the speed was set at 90 mph and the lack of skid marks, but Black people knew it in our spirit all along. From the moment the story broke, we fucking knew it. We sat and watched as others speculated about it, giving these two abusive, murderous white women the benefit of the doubt after they had driven their adopted Black children off a 100-foot cliff.
We knew it in 2014 when Devonte Hart, with tears welling up in his eyes, was photographed in a tentative embrace with a white cop at a Black Lives Matter rally and the image instantly went viral. Other photos from that day show that Devonte was already in tears even before he was approached by the cop. In Sgt. Bret Barnum’s own account of the event, he states that the boy was “hesitant” to speak to him, but he persisted with the conversation and ultimately asked for the hug.
Devonte’s body language in the photos spoke volumes to us. It felt like coercion. It felt like a 12 year-old Black boy, who was at a rally to protest the Grand Jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown, was afraid to speak to a white police officer, but was pressured into doing so anyway as others surrounded him and took the opportunity to snap the perfect “feel good” photo. And we were not at all surprised when Sgt. Barnum was later caught up in a controversy for publicly showing his support of Darren Wilson on Facebook.
We know what it looks like when Black people are being used as a tool of performative allyship and white liberalism. Devonte was made a spectacle and used as propaganda, by his guardian who accompanied him and by every person who shared the image of his obvious pain with musings about how racial togetherness and free hugs would magically solve all of the world’s issues and end racialized state violence.
One of his guardians seized the opportunity to write about the viral photo on Facebook, saying that they attended the rally in hopes of “spreading love and kindness, and to remind (ALL) people that they matter in this world.” The Harts failed Devonte and his siblings in more ways than one.
This is why performative white allyship is so dangerous, and not just for the Black and non-Black kids who get adopted by them. It is insidious, to say the least, when “good white folks” impersonate someone who truly cares about anti-racism work, even as they continue to uphold white supremacy in their words and actions, and continually harm people of color.
We witness this ally theater daily, both in our communities and on the larger world’s stage. We see the way that people like the Hart couple insulate themselves with people of color as tokens and trophies to provide themselves an alibi for their racism.
We see the way they fetishize Martin Luther King, Jr. and a non-violent stance, whitewashing and re-writing his legacy to present an ahistorical vision of the civil rights leader who ultimately saw the validity of violence as a form of resistance, because they plugged their ears after “I have a dream.”
Their white saviorism complex is painfully obvious, a perpetuation of the colonialist and imperialist self-aggrandizing belief that people of color always need white people to save us, even from the white supremacy that they actively participate in and continually benefit from.
And how dare we not bestow accolades upon them for “liberating” us? We, deadpan as they explode into tears and go on social media rants when people of color don’t fall to our knees and thank them profusely for being gracious enough to do work on our behalf. We hear them scream, “I’ve always been good to you negroes” before exiting stage left in a huff.
We side-eye the ones who are so glaringly only “progressive and forward-thinking” because they see it as a trend, like their avocado toast and the aesthetics that they appropriated from hood Black girls. They list social justice work that they never actually did on their resume and OkCupid profiles for social capital, and pats on the back, and so they can more easily fuck the people color that they fetishize.
The “I’m not like other white people” declarations don’t fool us. These special snowflakes take up so much fucking space as they fall over themselves trying to obscure their own privilege and disassociate themselves from the white supremacist violences of the past, present, and future.
We roll our eyes at the white allies who demand our intellectual and emotional labor and scream “It’s your job to educate me!” only to take our words back to their white ally spaces to accept all of the credit, then block us on Facebook when we call them out for their intellectual thievery.
We laugh at the ones who reach their hands out for cookies after they tell us that they would’ve voted for Obama for a third term. They’ve seen “Get Out” three times and “Black Panther” five times. Guess what? They still ain’t shit.
We see every last one of these fake ass performative white allies, including the Harts. White violence takes so many ugly forms, and people like the Harts who systematically abuse people of color while using us as “proof” of their allyship are hideous monstrosities of unbounded proportions.