How (Not) To Be An Ally

Posted by – June 19, 2013

My patience for snark is really, really low these days, but I still found some of the gems in “8 Ways Not To Be An “Ally”: A Non-Comprehensive List” pretty useful.

But I’m still going to re-articulate them for those who don’t understand irony. I’ve put her comments in italics, and tried to articulate in my earnest, non-snarky way, why this list is so vital. I’ve also added one of my own.

1. Assume one act of solidarity makes you an ally forever means fighting oppression is an ongoing, day to day struggle that doesn’t come with much resolution if any. One day the world is not going to just be better. Which means that you, as an ally, need to keep doing whatever work you do to minimize racism, sexism, homphobia, etc.

2. Make everything about your feelings, or, it’s not about you. The best way to go about this is to shut up and listen. That’s all. Stop talking so much. Listen. Pretend you don’t have an opinion and that other people’s lived experiences are actually as valid as your own. It’s a nutty idea, I know, but it’s true. People who live with marginalization are often – shocker! – at least as smart as you, if not smarter.

3.  Date ‘em all will not, in any way, make you an ally automatically. In fact, it could instead mean that you’re a fetishizing, exploitive, clueless jerk. (Trans admirers take special note here, please.)

4. Don’t see race/gender/disability/etc. is a good way of eliminating someone’s identity and specifically an identity which – because of the sexist, racist, transphobic, ablesist culture we live in, tends to essentialize a person due to that marginalization. Not seeing that aspect of them is belittling and really only lets you off the hook, free from your white liberal guilt. That is, it does nothing for people who are marginalized, but everything for people who aren’t.

5. Don’t try any harder, or, try until you succeed, not just until your white liberal guilt is assuaged. See above.

6. Challenge oppression in personal situations but not in systemic ways means: it’s easy to tell your grandma that she’s being racist. Not as easy to tell your feminist professor she’s being transphobic, or your university administrator that not accepting trans women into an all-women’s school is discriminatory. Take it to the halls of power, not just to your aunt.

7. Take. Don’t give, or, try not to pretend that just being in and amongst people who are marginalized and understanding and/or enjoying their art, organizations, and rallies doesn’t make you anything but an observer. Do the legwork. Better still, do the absolutely unglorious legwork of volunteering on an LGBTQ suicide hotline, working with at-risk students of color on their math and writing, collecting good textbooks for tribal libraries, and do it all without any expectation of a thank you or gratitude or even an easier conscience.

8. Quote Audre Lorde – at least not at people who are marginalized, and make no mistake that knowing Audre Lorde means you’re living Audre Lorde. Honestly, you can only ever aspire to Audre Lorde in the first place, but again: learn from her. Don’t teach her to people who know and live and breathe the kinds of oppression she’s written about because guess what? They already know it. You, on the other hand, don’t, so read it, and re-read it, and re-read it again. Sit down with a quote of hers and write a few paragraphs about what it means and in what way it might change your own life.

9. I’m going to add that the one thing I think all allies should repeat is this: not being an asshole doesn’t make you a miracle. It doesn’t even make you a good person – just a decent one.  It makes you a person who is horrified by the idea that too much of your success, safety, and opportunity in the world have been given you due to systemic injustice, racism, classism, sexism, white skin privilege, ability, and the rest, and who is creeped out by the idea because maybe you’ve experienced just enough bullshit to know exactly how fucked up the world is. Your goal isn’t to make the world a better place. It’s to make it just slightly less fucked up than when you entered it.

And read more Mia Mackenzie. She writes funny stuff.  If you disagree with her, or don’t get her, it’s probably because you don’t know enough or just don’t live with daily marginalization so you’re not quite as pissed off yet. In that case, read more Abagond.

1 Comment on How (Not) To Be An Ally

  1. […] So kudos to Dale Hansen for telling those distraught about Michael Sam to suck it up and get with the times. Despite what you’d expect given America’s history, there are older white men just like Hansen out there who are empathetic to the issues impacting other people. Be ready nevertheless to back up your stance if you’re going to quote Audre Lorde. […]

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