Dear Allies

Dear (insert random disenfranchised group here) allies;

Please stop for just a second. Take a moment to think before you speak. In particular, take a moment to consider whether you should be giving advice to the group you seek to help, and if you should, if the advice you have in mind is the best advice. Take time to examine whether or not you understand the nuances of the others’ circumstances. In other words do better than this gentleman:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbvC1-Z6Iug

To be fair, this man’s heart is in the right place. He wants to help, but he is engaging in some classic victim blaming behavior here. He also makes a few errors in his overall examination. If it were a simple matter of numbers the civil rights movement would not have happened. It took convincing people to change their minds, which included calling people out on their attitudes on race. There is still work to be done in that arena and it obviously is more than PoC needing greater numbers. Attitudes by the privileged need to be changed so that, more importantly, their behavior can be changed.

Being a good ally is not about telling the victim of a privilege struggle what they should be doing. It is their fight and unless you are part of the group you have no idea what is going on in their heads, what challenges they have had to face, how they have faced them or what the consequences of facing them have been. As an ally to PoC I cannot personally know what it is like to walk through life with people of all races judging me by the color of my skin, making assumptions about my past or my upbringing before even speaking to me, or denying me a job, house or service based on those assumptions. All I can do is speak up when I see white privilege rear its ugly head and to help, however I can, to change or dismantle those institutions that maintain it.

Being a good ally also means you should be able to take it when those you seek to help send you messages like this one. Becoming indignant over your gay, PoC, religious minority or gender minority friends’ explaining that you need to be better ally frankly just puts into sharp relief how much you have to examine your own privilege.  Behaving like that sends the message, intentionally or not, that you are the gatekeeper of the privileged life and you are the one, with your privilege, that will get us into that life. In other words, you are reveling in your privilege. Some of us will try to be nice with you about it, some of us will (very justifiably) bring the house down on you and some, like me, will fall somewhere in the middle.

Also, being on the short end of a privilege struggle does not mean you know what it is like for other people in other struggles. I may be a trans woman and a sexual minority, but I have the option (burden? crutch?) of going into the closet and passing as “normal.” A PoC does not have that option. Conversely (and keeping in mind that I cannot really know) that same PoC does not have to hide what they are from those closest to them, their family, for fear of rejection, loss of support or even violence.  Even when your issues are similar it does not mean they are the same. I belong to one religious minority, agnostics,  but that does not mean that I know what a member of another religious minority, say Muslims, has to face. To tell them they should behave more Muslim, less Muslim or any other way would be to insult their needs and experiences.

No one is going to be a perfect ally. The video above may be a simple misstep by an otherwise awesome ally. I know I have faltered, and will probably falter in the future. I hope, though, that when I do the people who I am trying to support will call me out, comfortable in the assumption that I will not take offense. I hope all my trans, gay, agnostic allies out there know that I will do the same.

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