four things I want allies to know
Guest Post by Jessica
(cw: This article has screen shots that contain swear words. I have not censored them, however I have censored the screen shots with slurs in them.)
I am privileged. I’m white, cisgender, upper-middle class, able-bodied, educated, thin, conventionally attractive, and that’s not even a complete lists of my privilege. However, I’m also oppressed. I’m a woman, and I’m lesbian. Because of my place in those oppressed communities and because of my love for activism, both feminist and queer, I have a lot of opinions about allies.
I’ve been asked a few times about what I want allies to know. This is my answer, or at least part of it. It’s not complete, and is mostly written with LGBTQIA+ allies in mind, but they are things I strongly believe and will continue to trumpet as long as necessary.
You are not essential
You, as an ally, are not an essential part of the community you are an ally to. The fight for equality will go on whether you participate or not. So don’t get a big head, don’t try to make the movement and the community all about you, and for goodness sake please don’t use your allyship as some sort of bargaining chip.
Being unessential doesn’t mean you are unimportant. You are differently important, but not so important that everything will fall to pieces without you. This movement is literally not about you, so don’t make it about you. You are supposed to be a support. You’re the one who makes sure that we, the oppressed, are bolstered enough to fight the good fight.
What should you do, then? Be aware of your place and don’t overstep boundaries, and use your privilege to make our voices heard instead of yours.
Allyship does not entitle you to anything.
Things you should never, ever say or think:
- “The A in LGBTQIA stands for Ally!”
- “I can use the n-slur because I have black friends.”
- “I can’t be a misogynist! I’m a feminist!”
Being an ally does not give you extra privileges. It does not give you a special pass from racism/homophobia/misogyny/etc. It does not enable you to use slurs or language traditionally used to oppress. It does not give you access to queer-only spaces or POC-only spaces or female-only spaces.
Also, being an ally does not entitle you to cookies and gold stars. No oppressed person should ever feel like they need to bend over backwards to praise and please their oppressors. You literally don’t deserve it, and if you think you do, maybe you need to reanalyze why exactly you’re an “ally.” If you are supporting a minority or oppressed group for status, prestige, or bragging rights, then you aren’t supporting them and also you’re an asshole.
As a side note, oppression does not qualify you to be part of the community. Being oppressed doesn’t qualify you for the queer community. Being queer does. Being oppressed doesn’t qualify you for the POC community. Being not-white does. Besides, any oppression you face for being an ally doesn’t begin to compare to the systematic oppression and discrimination faced by those in oppressed communities.
Don’t tokenize or sensationalize the oppressed
I once met a cishet girl who obviously liked me for my queerness. She made it pretty obvious too, going on and on about “it’s so great to have a gay friend” (I don’t identify with the label “gay” at all, but she could not seem to remember that no matter how much I told her). It became stupidly obvious she was tokenizing me when once, at a party, she orbited around me until a gay man walked into the room. She clapped to his side like a magnet, fawned over him until he left, and then came back to me like nothing was wrong.
Don’t do this. It’s uncomfortable, demeaning, and offensive. My queerness does not erase my humanity. I’m not a rare trading card friend for you to collect for your social circle. And it’s the same for all minorities, so don’t introduce someone as, “My Asian friend So-and-So.” Don’t start awkwardly worshipping someone after finding out that they are trans. And please, for the love of everything, don’t ever, ever do this:
Oppressed anger is valid and getting defensive gets you nowhere
It is highly likely that you will come across oppressed people who are angry at how the privilege of the oppressors (privilege you inherently hold )has historically been used against them. They may say things about how they hate all men, or how cishets are “scum,” or you may even come across this t-shirt.
Take a deep breath. Don’t get defensive. Allow yourself a moment to calm down and think. Why is this person expressing anger? Most of the time it’s because they are angry at an oppressive system. Most of the time they’re actually angry at privilege rather than the people. And anger is a completely valid emotion and can often be incredibly effective at getting things done, much more effective than quietly pandering to the privileged class.
Honestly, if my anger toward the privileged means you don’t want to be my ally, I don’t want you to be my ally. I don’t want to be with people who’s support is conditional, because that isn’t real support. How can I trust you if you’re going to turn your back on me the second I express frustration or anger at the oppression I’ve faced my whole life?
Exercising some empathy and really trying to think about why this oppressed person is so hurt and angry will make you into a better person and a better ally. If you did something wrong, apologize. Never invalidate the oppressed person’s feelings by telling them why they shouldn’t feel that way. Just listen, learn, and be better in the future.
These four points are ones I find myself reviewing the most, both for my own allyship and with those who are allies to me. Allyship is an ongoing process, something you have to work at and evaluate and work at your whole life. I’m not a perfect ally, but I try, apologize if I mess up, and continually try to learn how to be better. That’s something I want all allies to do.
[all screenshots are taken from the tumblr lgbtlaughs.tumblr.com unless otherwise stated/linked]
9 Responses to “four things I want allies to know”
You are telling allies to never speak on the behalf of the oppressed, and then you speak on behalf of POC and all general minorities (of which you are not a part) numerous times. Practice what you preach.
Like I said at the very beginning, this post was written with mostly LGBTQIA allies in mind. Additionally, every non-feminist/queer reference is something I have heard a member of that oppressed group say. Please read more carefully. ❤
So by that logic, I can talk on behalf of minorities as long as I’ve heard them say it?
You’re undermining the entire point of not speaking on behalf of oppressed groups you are not a part of.
Not talk on behalf of, but talk about. Where else are allies supposed to get their information?
Was there something specific I said that upset you?
I feel like your article violates at least two of the pieces of advice you were telling allies to recognize. 1. You use POC as a means to illustrate your point (despite not being a POC) 2. Just because you’re an ally of POC, it doesn’t mean you are entitled to say what they do or do not approve of.
I can see you point, but I disagree. I can also see I can’t say anything that will change your mind. May I ask if you are a POC?
I actually agree with you that it’s ok to speak out against oppression of minority groups that you don’t belong to – the problem is that your blog post vilifies doing exactly that, and then you go ahead and do it with POC minority groups. I just wanted you to realize that it’s not always an easily defined line when one is an ally, and you’re rhetoric in this piece is both divisive and unproductive. For example, you address the reader as “oppressor.” That is not only a poor way to write persuasive writing, it’s contentious. And, yes, we are all complicit in oppressive systems, but that doesn’t justify hating someone for an inherent trait they cannot change (ie being straight, being queer, being white, being black, etc.). If you’re going to call me an oppressor, whose best friend is gay, whose close friends are gay, and whose girlfriend is queer, then just imagine how much of an oppressor you are to minority groups you aren’t’ a part of. If you’re going to call people that name (which may or may not be accurate), you’d better be willing to turn it back on yourself and see how it feels, especially within this article, if you expect to have any credibility.
I understand you’re just fighting the good fight, and speaking out against oppression, and I understand and respect that. I also get that it’s important that allies don’t hijack the messages of the actual oppressed, and it is a problem that needs to addressed (and you do well in some aspects of the post), but being elitist and militant against those all those who are just generally trying to help is counter productive, creates an Us vs Them mentality, and is the same strategy every oppressive system uses.
When I was in one of the poorest countries in Africa, I completely and totally understood why some people hated and resented me for being a white, american, male. And while I was sympathetic to their hatred, I recognized that, in reality, they hated the system, or the impersonal aspect of my race and nationality, not me personally. But that’s not the same as me condoning hatred of individuals for qualities they cannot change – and I think it’s important to make the distinction between hating “whiteness”, for example, and hating an individual white person (which is obviously unjust). I don’t think that distinction was made within this post.
And while I am incredibly lucky to have so much privilege, I know what it’s like to be oppressed. I’ve experienced homelessness as a child and poverty to the point of having trouble affording food to eat, of having to forgoe doctor’s visit despite serious injuries. Despite you being upper-middle class, I don’t consider you my oppressor. I think that’s divisive. And I don’t even mind if you advocate for the poor – just don’t get angry at well-meaning allies who also advocate for the minority you’re a part of (as long as they’re not hijacking your message, that is).
oma this “gabe” person using the phrase “butt hurt”– sadly telling.
also, thank you for this description of tokenizing! “I’m not a rare trading card friend for you to collect for your social circle.”
and in general for the encouragement to keep working on my ally-ship. ❤ ❤
As someone who wants to know when I’ve said or done something to hurt feelings or offend others, especially in sensitive areas like this, I really appreciate this post. Thank you for taking the time to write it and share it with us.