by Hermia Lyly
Fantastically Bad Allies and Where to Find Them represents the fruit of many years’ travel and research. I look back across the years to the girl who spent hours in her bedroom reading about intersectionality, and I envy her the journeys to come: from darkest Facebook argument to brightest coalition building, from pride parade to community conference, that grubby patriarchy-encrusted girl would track, as she grew up, the allies described in the following pages. I have visited Facebook accounts, blogs, and tumblrs across five continents, observed the curious habits of bad allies in a hundred countries, witnessed their powers, gained their trust and, on occasion, beaten them off with my travelling kettle.
I offer this work as a mere introduction to the wealth of fantastically bad allies that inhabit our world. A number of species are described in the following pages, but I do not doubt that some time this year yet another will be discovered, necessitating a fifty-third revised edition of Fantastically Bad Allies and Where to Find Them. In the meantime I will merely add that it affords me great pleasure to think that generations of young, marginalized people have grown to a fuller knowledge and understanding of fantastically bad allies through the pages of this book.
A Note: While this compendium is designed to describe fantastically bad allies of all marginalized communities, the author’s personal experience comes from her identity as a queer, white, mostly able-bodied woman. If you would like to include any fantastically bad ally that I have missed, feel free to write a description of them in the comments!
The Devil’s Advocate
The Devil’s Advocate is frequently found in online forums and in the comments. The Devil’s Advocate is happiest when attempting to refute your experience as a marginalized person; whether that means questioning statistics about police brutality, attempting to argue that same-sex marriage really does destroy religious freedom, or that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist. Their favorite phrases are, “I’m just trying to think critically about this,” “I want to make sure we’re not in an echo-chamber,” or “For the sake of argument…” The Devil’s Advocate says they’re an ally, but isn’t very helpful with their thinly-veiled trolling.
The Diva can be found anywhere that there is an audience. They’re very popular, and they work hard to befriend all of the marginalized people that they are allied to, but when an opportunity comes around to draw attention to the cause, they suddenly forget that their marginalized friends exist. They’re the white person being interviewed about #blacklivesmatter or #niunamas, they’re the straight person giving a speech at a LGBTQIA+ conference, or they’re the man who takes it upon himself to explain feminism to others. This isn’t just a one-time occurrence, it’s something that happens again and again and again. In fact, it’s beginning to feel like the face of your movement is not the members of your community, but actually the face of the Diva.
The Equal Playing Field
The Equal Playing Field is usually white, usually male, and has usually experienced some kind of hardship that they are very eager to tell you about. These hardships are legitimate, and have given the Equal Playing Field valuable experiences in life that should help them understand a little bit about what it’s like to be in your marginalized community… except for the fact that instead of using their life experiences to connect with you, they’re instead using them as evidence that since they’re not complaining about their hardships, you shouldn’t complain either (but really they’re complaining about their hardships all the time). They like to play oppression olympics: you may be biracial (+1 point) and gender non-conforming (+1 point), but their parents divorced when they were young (+1 point) and they got bullied at school (+1 point), so you’re basically even, right? Of course the hardships in their life are legitimate, but they don’t realize that gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, etc., intersect in ways that are more complicated than a simple points system.
The Good Enough
The Good Enough is easy to identify because they only have one buttcheek. As a result, all of their allyship is half-assed (indeed, I am highly favored of the pun-goddess). When you need to talk to them about improving their allyship, they act affronted, and say something like, “Well, you should just be grateful that I’m helping you at all!” They’re constantly looking for cookies, because they assume that treating you like a decent human being is a superhuman act that deserves all kinds of accolades. As soon as you tell them that you don’t need to reward them for treating you like a decent human being, or that they need to do more to be a good ally, they call you ungrateful and leave.
The Ignoramus is often a “friend” from high school or college, or a friend’s mom who seem entirely unable to use Google. The Ignoramus uses slurs and holds onto outdated, offensive ideas, but excuses themselves from being labelled a bigot or hateful by claiming that they “didn’t know.” The funny thing is, the Ignoramus has both the time and the means to access up-to-date information about the marginalized community that they claim to be an ally to. You’ve given them a free pass for the first eighteen times that they claimed ignorance, but you’re not sure how much longer you can deal with them. They’ve been claiming to be an ally for years–why do they act as if they’re brand new to it all?
The Inspiration Porn Addict
The Inspiration Porn Addict can be found weeping over any video with a cheesy soundtrack and a title like “Love is Love” or “We’re all the Same on the Inside” or “It Gets Better.” If you are a marginalized person who happens to have a Hollywood-worthy story about how you overcame your circumstances to become a successful adult, then the Inspiration Porn Addict will cling to you like a leech. But beware! Even if you share the tiniest un-inspirational confession, like how you don’t think things automatically get better, or how you’re so tired of being marginalized, or that you often feel hopeless, the Inspiration Porn Addict will drop you as quickly as they came.
The Invisible is very, very difficult to find. Occasionally they will like a social justice-themed Facebook post, or converse with you privately about their support for your community, but aside from that, they are never seen. When you need them to support you publicly, such as attending an event, being vocal at church, advocating for your rights in the workplace, etc., they’ve magically disappeared!
The Line-seeker, like their name indicates, is constantly seeking the line between ally and bigot. You can find them wandering around, asking the marginalized people who they claim to be allies for questions like, “Can I still be an ally if I think same-sex marriage is morally wrong?” and “I can support the Confederate Flag as a cultural icon, but condemn it when it’s used as a racist symbol–that doesn’t make me racist, right?” The Line-seeker is often closely affiliated with an institution or culture that is deeply bigoted. The Line-seeker claims to want justice and equal rights, but only if it means their institution or culture can continue in its bigotry without any consequences. Line-seekers and Invisibles frequently gather in packs, bemoaning how difficult it is to be a good ally in the culture they live in, while still enjoying all the perks that their privilege brings. They want to have their cake and eat it too: after all, what’s so wrong about wanting to support marginalized people but also wanting to benefit directly from their marginalization?
The Hive Mind
The Hive Mind is so named because they assume that all of the people in a given marginalized community think exactly the same. This is usually because they became an ally in order to support a close friend or relative, and now they assume that all of the people in the marginalized community think and feel the same way as their friend/relative. Of course, it’s great that they want to support their loved one, but it’s also harmful when they assume that their loved one somehow speaks for all marginalized people. Hive Minds like to say things like, “I don’t see why women are offended by being called ‘chicks.’ I call my girlfriend a ‘chick’ all the time and she doesn’t mind,” or “my friend is asexual and he doesn’t like any kind of sexual contact, so if you like kissing you can’t be asexual.”
The Rhinoceros’s favorite phrase is “you need to get thicker skin.” Sure, they’re here to help marginalized people, but it would be so much easier if those marginalized people didn’t always complain and act like a bunch of babies! (Note: do not confuse the ally rhinoceros with the land-mammal rhinoceros. One of them is a dangerous, aggressive creature, and the other one is an herbivore native to Africa.)
The Troll is a large beast typically found near bridges. Sometimes they like to pretend to be allies so they can gain access to spaces designed for marginalized people, and then use that access to spread hatred or idiocy. No one knows why they do this, but I can guarantee that there will be at least two or three in the comments of this post.
The Water Off a Duck’s Back
If you are an ally, and you’ve gone through this entire post thinking “I’m so glad I’m not any of these fantastically bad allies–aren’t I such an amazing ally?” then you’re The Water Off a Duck’s Back. You’ve probably received criticism in the past, but you either didn’t listen or you didn’t take it seriously, so it didn’t stick. Marginalized people have stopped trying to help you improve your allyship, because they know you won’t listen–you’re too busy being amazing at your own kindness and goodness. If you’re currently basking in the glow of your own ally-awesomeness, please consider the following: 1) there is no such thing as a perfect ally, and 2) being an ally is a constant process of development and improvement. Marginalized peoples do not need perfect allies, what they need are allies who are willing to continually strive to improve, learn, and do better. Let me repeat that: we do not need perfect allies, we need allies who are willing to continually strive to improve, learn, and do better.