What’s in an Ally?
Supposedly, an Ally builds relationships with marginalized groups to gain greater empathy and understanding thru regular exposure, and with people in power groups to challenge them in their thinking about their personal and institutional privilege.
By “power groups”, I mean White, Male, Heterosexual, CIS gender, Able-bodied, Wealthy, Young, Christians.
And by “marginalized groups”, I mean everyone who isn’t those things.
Allies also acknowledge the limits of what they know about marginalized people’s experiences but don’t use that as a reason not to think or take action. Allies confront microaggressions and mistreatment as they come up daily, but also challenge systemic oppression and work to deconstruct it, knowing they risk of experiencing some oppression because of their efforts.
With Black people, we often jokingly tell our Allies that they are invited to “the cookout”. The cookout is a metaphorical gathering of Black people that’s exclusive to only Black people where we eat and play games with unique connection to Black culture. Inviting an Ally to the cookout is our way of letting them know we recognize their show of solidarity and appreciate it.
These days, we invite Allies to the cookout for pretty much anything tho. We ignore historical problematic or inconsistent behavior. We do no background checks or vetting to determine how much work, if any, they’ve done to understand and unlearn the spectrum of oppressive behaviors. Any show of solidarity is accepted no matter what, when or by whom.
Say something that sounds “woke” one time? You get an invitation. Go viral in the process? And we’re offering To-Go containers of baked beans and potato salad!
Oh Lawd! Not the potato salad!?!
Our willingness to accept any acknowledgement of solidarity is a by-product of supremacy. We are conditioned to seek praise and acceptance from power groups, especially those who are White. Their praise and acceptance makes us feel the most validated even when they have additional identities in another marginalized group.
We have to require more before we place the Ally label on someone and give them greater access to our community. Even and especially those who belong to other marginalized groups!
It’s time to demand Allies be fully intersectional — or be gone!
Let’s talk about the 5 things that REALLY make you an Ally:
If the people in your life who you think are Allies are not consistently doing these things, they aren’t real Allies. Stop lying to yourself and stop gassing their head up.
Instead, have an honest conversation with them and help them get on the right track. Here’s a few phrases to help you with that:
“You probably aren’t aware that what you said is offensive. I encourage you not to say that anymore and to do some research on it so you understand why” … If the person asks you to explain why the phrase is offensive or accuses you of being too sensitive or some other such nonsense, know that that’s a normal Privilege Fragility reaction. Don’t engage further. Do not argue or try to explain why the phrase is offensive because that only coddles the person in their privilege. A true Ally wouldn’t expect this of you. Simply say “I apologize. I didn’t realize you were not open to having this kind of dialogue” and move on.
“Actually, what you’re saying isn’t fully accurate. I think we should pause this conversation to allow you some time to get more information and gain more understanding” … If the person asks you to tell them where to find more information, you can choose whether or not to share resources vs requiring them to find their own. However, if they argue with you and are unwilling to acknowledge their information or understanding may be lacking, know that’s a normal Privilege Fragility reaction. Don’t engage further. A true Ally wouldn’t challenge you this way. Simply say “I disagree and I don’t wish to discuss it further right now. Let’s talk about something else.”
“I appreciate your support on this issue. I notice you still have some challenges with ____. I hope you’ll do some more research and work so you can grow in your intersectionality” … If the person tries to explain away or justify their inconsistency, know that’s a Privilege Fragility reaction and it’s totally normal. Don’t engage further. A true Ally wouldn’t justify their harmful impact or blind spots. Simply say “I didn’t realize you were unaware of this. The next time it happens, I’ll point it out in the moment. Hopefully, that will be more productive.”
It isn’t the responsibility of marginalize people to help or coddle those in power groups to understand the oppressive systemic structures … They created the structures! They should know how they work!
Unfortunately, in most instances, they don’t. And because of their privilege, they assume it is the duty of others to explain it to them. They also assume it is the duty of others to make them feel better when any incident occurs that makes them uncomfortable or paints them in a negative light.
Neither of these are true. Black people have no duty to continue to coddle supremacy, privilege or any other person or institution committed to keeping us marginalized and mistreated.
A real Ally understands this. More importantly, they respect it and honor it.
What’s in an Ally? A lot … So let’s start requiring people in power groups to fully live up to the title.