For Allies Who Feel “Shot Down”
Or otherwise rejected by people of color & other minorities
After reading this essay on BUST about how white ladies still don’t get it, I winced in anticipation as I looked down at the Facebook comments. The first predictably said something to the effect of “It’s hard to be an ally when I constantly feel shot down.” I have heard that phrase before. Shot down.
A lot of white people’s language echoes that sentiment — a feeling of resentment for being “rejected” by minorities. This is problematic because becoming an ally is not a relationship. A relationship implies that you are offering something up and the other party either denies or approves the submission, whether that’s help or a crying shoulder or a statement of support. Black people — or any minority — do not owe you anything. That is not why you’re an ally. You do not do it to improve your relationship with a certain group you are abstracted from, but rather because you have seen injustice and hope to fix it. Being a good ally cannot and should not ever be a condition of acceptance.
When someone gets pouty, saying, “What does it even matter if I try because they’ll never accept me/like me/want my help anyway,” it’s probable that this is the most convenient emotion to access. What lies underneath is likely much more real, embarrassing or hurtful and therefore we stick with the low hanging fruit of anger. Please examine this feeling and its raw, primary roots. Why do you feel that you need acknowledgement? Why do you react so strongly when you don’t have it?
It could be that you are atoning or compensating for something and any mention of imperfection implies that you are just as racist, sexist or homophobic as your family, church, former self, etc. Another possibility might be that you are feeling insecure. You want people to like you. Of course. We all do! Or perhaps it’s fear. You are afraid that you will be seen as a “bad” person and you don’t want your friends and family to be disappointed in you.
You don’t have to be ashamed of these visceral, lizard-brain reactions, but please keep in mind that minorities are fighting and sometimes dying for their lives, livelihoods, vitality and equality. They don’t have the time nor do they have the responsibility to make sure that you feel alright. So even if someone is rejecting your allyship, a handy question might be, “When I said goodbye to my spouse/children/siblings/parents today, did I worry that they might be arrested or killed just by virtue of being alive?” If your answer is honestly no, then please try to realize how silly it is that you are worried about people liking you or using frank language.
Here’s another reason you might be reacting how you do. Remember when the teacher would catch someone cheating? And she would stand in front of the class and give a speech designed to make the guilty person come forward? She would talk about character and duty and honor and use her “mom” voice. If you’re anything like me, when this happened you might have felt guilty despite not having cheated. It’s just our nature to apply messages to our own situation. And it continues today, especially in the age of the think piece.
We are so vain, we always think someone’s essay is about us. But when someone writes something on the internet, it is typically intended for a type of person. Maybe someone the author knows or has come into contact with. Maybe someone who they’ve only encountered on the web. But either way, if the statement is “WHITE WOMEN QUIT __________” It needn’t be an indictment on you personally. The point of the essay is “WHITE WOMEN WHO ______, QUIT DOING THAT THING.” If you don’t do the thing, brava! If you do, consider stopping. Then move on with your day. It’s that simple.
Sometimes people have the patience and graciousness to nicely explain things to white or straight people. Sometimes they don’t want to or can’t. I would think that it is perfectly understandable if the latter is the case, considering we have a Nazi advising our president and seemingly every other day there is a human rights disaster that occasionally ends fatally. Beyond that, dealing with ignorance in small ways and large can take its toll. If someone needs to vent or express their anger, it doesn’t mean you’re a shitty person and terrible ally. It just means that you’re hearing someone’s truth. And sometimes that hurts — but I assure you, it hurts far less for you.