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Am I a Good Ally?

May 22, 2016

Am I a “Good Ally”?  What does this even mean; how does one determine the value of one’s ally-ship? Should it even be a consideration?

I have many privileges afforded to me in my UK-based lifestyle.  I am not poor (although the bar for the definition of poor seems to be constantly lowering); I am white; I am educated; I present as able-bodied about half of my time; I am cisgender; I am heterosexual, and apparently look like I am.  I appear to conform in many ways.

I have my intersecting experiences of discrimination; I am female and I am disabled, and live with clinical depression.  Within those identities are further experiences of discrimination, for my lack of societal conforming good looks such as being fat and having a ‘gifted-size’ nose.  I have experienced much discrimination but it can also never be denied that I have experienced much privilege.  I am guessing I will continue to experience both.

Being an ally to those who experience discrimination that I benefit from due to my privilege is something I feel incredibly strongly about.  It is fraught with many considerations and fears.  Am I speaking over those who should be at the forefront of the fight? Is my white woman shouting silencing my sisters of BAME identity ?  I see it with the male ally to feminism being lauded for the slightest act of discovery when women have been screaming the exact thing for many years, apparently into a void.  I know my white, educated voice is more likely to be heard and respected than a person who has not got my education or whiteness.  That’s the very nature of the privilege I am afforded.

Guilt goes along with that privilege, and it should.  Not the guilt of the creator of the privilege, but of the person benefitting.  I recognise that I am not responsible for the creation of the privilege but I very much am responsible for the ending of it.  That is the fundamental definition of myself as an ally.

So far, so wordy.  It’s all for nothing without action.  My disabilities have limited my activism more and more to online and in writing, although I will still be at a rally if I can.  Visibility is important, more so than any other form of activity, so I will carry a placard with pictures of those who can’t make it on there; a show of although I am one, be aware that I carry many others with me.

I will use my privilege to fight that same privilege.  But I will only do so if I am not speaking over those with experience.  If I can support a sister of BAME identity I will do so and it must be at the expense of my own voice being heard.  I will be heard if there is the space given to me to do so.  That is my rule.

I have become aware that this rule may be problematic.  It may stop me from speaking at all.  As a woman, I am raised to be nurturing, to put others ahead, to say “no, you first” and indicate forward with bowed head to let others pass.  I need to be braver as an ally.

I need to stop worrying about staying silent and speak forth.  If I don’t, then my silence is complicit in perpetuating the prejudice.  It’s okay to be wrong, to make mistakes.  It’s okay to be called out because without being called out you cannot know what you are doing, what I am doing, to make the situation worse.  Being called out is a gift not an embarrassing attack.  The language used to call out is that of a person or people long oppressed and if I cannot understand the anger, pain and frustration behind it then I think I am missing the point.

As one woman said, “Excuse us if we don’t always smile politely after you stomp on us.”  Damn right.  We should thank you for taking the time.  If anyone starts any sentence in response to a point made with “but not all…” then Ally101, they are missing the point and not being an ally.

No advancement in social history has ever been made without acts of violence.  Think about it – the suffragettes in the UK both enacted property and personal violence, and were on the receiving end of truly vile state sanctioned violence.  Likewise the ending of the slave trade in the United States, the 1960s Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots and so on.  The violence is not one way; the discriminated-against have been on the receiving end for so very long that it truly is a war.  I don’t want that to happen but I damn well understand how it does, and to dismiss it with racist stereotypes like the ‘angry black woman’, or the criminalised black male, or to emasculate gay men as ‘feminine’ thereby inviting society’s approbation exclusively by conforming to the masculine ideal of strength and physical  dominance, is dismissing and provocative.

Project for a W.E.L.L. online event - taken in Greenwich 5.6.12

I know which side I will be on and it won’t be the one whose privilege I share.  That is what I will do.  That is my Ally Pledge.

Am I a good ally?  I have absolutely no idea.  But I want to be and I work to be.  That’s all any of us can do.  That’s all that ALL of us should do.

 

Thank you to the strong and open women who allow me to reap the benefit of their knowledge for the inspiration for this.  If they see this, they’ll know who they are

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