Eater of Trees

Allies are Terrible Forever

Posted on: October 21, 2011

Okay most of this has been said before I think, but still, I got irritated by someone identifying as an ally being terrible recently, so! Large analytic post.  If you know why self-identified allies are often a problem, this probably isn’t anything new.

tl;dr: Being an ally means encouraging people to call you out more, not less.

Cis feminists will often expect to be treated as heroic “allies” for mentioning trans people in passing occasionally, while not doing anything to reassess their conceptions of gender and gender oppression, and like, they expect to be criticized less when they fuck up because “they’re on your side!”

And it’s actually not just cisfeminism, it’s more or less every sort of ally ever.

This seems to be very blatantly coming from a place where the only type of real oppression is the most violent overt harm, and maybe erasure, but from this perspective erasure is “nobody ever mentions you in passing ever” not “every narrative in society is constructed with the assumption that you are not possible”.

It all ultimately comes from the desire, common amongst privileged people, to use marginalized people for their own personal glory.  Your only worth is to make them seem like an awesome person for saving you.  Except they aren’t actually saving you, and they don’t want to actually put any effort into helping you.

And basically, this is just another way to marginalize you, objectify you, and force you out of the discourse.  People who say things like this are basically the enemy.  And when they say “attack the real enemy!” this is a blatant attempt to divert your energy from helping yourself into helping them.  You can be sure that these people never will consider diverting their energy into helping you; and once their oppressions have fallen, they’re more then happy to assume a new place in the status quo.

But this leads to a strange sort of twisted logic where allies think that because they’ve given some ground, they should be less a target of criticism.  This only makes the slightest bit of sense if your primary goal is to keep the status quo as intact as possible.  And moreover, it actually is entirely the opposite of what you’d think an ally should be.

See, a recurring part of a marginalized person’s life is being constantly bombarded by oppressive ideas.  Nobody has the energy to call these all out, or even to acknowledge them.  Especially when nearly everyone will respond hostilely to such attempts.

See, the person who’s an ally, in the actual sense that that word means, not in the “self aggrandizing privileged person who uses your struggles to make themselves look better”, would be someone who, when they do something fucked up, would be willing to listen to you if you explain how.

Like I will critique the actions of my close friends far more often then people I don’t know, because with my established relationship with my close friends, its far more likely that they’ll listen and productive discussion will ensue.

See, nobody is going to ever be not oppressive.  That just doesn’t happen.  There’s too many sorts of oppression.  Oppression is too ingrained in everything.  And oppressed people don’t all agree on everything.  And these things may be contradictory in their needs*. It may be possible to fix things in the future more or less, but now? Nope.

This doesn’t mean oppression is okay, which is why being open to listening is so important.  If you can’t be perfect, it becomes especially important to fix the and be aware of the damage that’s done.

But by saying you’re an ally, you’re saying you want to change things.  And that starts by reconceptualizing how you see the world.  Which starts by listening to marginalized people and acknowledging how the systems that are in place do not help them, and creating an environment in which they can openly discuss these things.

Basically, by saying you’re an ally, you’re saying “You should call me out more.  You’re saying, “rather then rolling your eyes and moving on when I hurt you, you should tell me, because I’m willing to be different from most privileged people, and actually listen.”

And if you try to insist that because you’re “on the same side” as us that we shouldn’t discuss our marginalization around you, you’re not on our side in the slightest.

*Like with pronouns, to be fully accepting of genders we basically need to allow people to make their pronouns whatever they want, but my learning disabilities mean, that like names, I’m really really bad at attaching those to people, which would be best served by having a small finite list of pronouns. …I definitely think the former is the better choice, assuming people actually acknowledge that people’s memories are not unlimited and there are good genderless options to fall back on if you’re memory is full of holes.  But basically, these marginalizations are entirely contradictory in what would best serve them.

Or like, the way my autism works I tend to use elaborate and sometimes weirdly precise language, and… oh hey that can be super inaccessible sometimes.  But on the other hand people insisting I should talk like normal people and not describe my emotions as “transient psychotic dysphoria” when “sad” would work is a very significant part of my oppression (both for the autism and the transient psychotic dysphoria, which… isn’t actually the same as being sad, though the meanings of the terms overlap)

But yeah, the gist of this is a lot of the ways to counter oppressions overlap and so simple solutions aren’t actually possible. Which makes openness to discussion all the more important.


4 Responses to "Allies are Terrible Forever"

Reblogged this. Ever heard of Living Plural?

Yes, we’ve spoken in their chatroom before.

Whoops, sorry! Didn’t check the name! Hi!

[…] Allies are not the people who are never called on their mistakes, allies are the people who are more called on their mistakes because they are the ones that really care, the ones that want to change and do better, at least this is what is supposed to be, allies are supposed to be the people we can trust. Read this more complete post about what I’m talking: […]

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