As many of you are aware, I’m currently doing a month without TV. Although TV isn’t something I spend a large amount of time watching, I did often find myself using it to fill time that could otherwise be spent trying new things, learning new skills, or otherwise broadening my horizons.
In the pursuit of other activities to fill my time, I’ve found myself doing a lot of reading — pieces here on Medium.com, novels, news, magazines, and even cereal boxes. It seems that reading is filling the time that Netflix binging previously occupied, and one of the topics I’ve consistently found myself reading about is equality of race, gender, and sexuality.
I’m extremely lucky to be in the presence of more than a few amazing, talented, strong women; plenty of vocal advocates for the equality of various cultures and races that are different from my own; and patient, highly intelligent people from which to learn, who recognize that the factors which create oppression and inequality today are often subtle and sinister variations of policies that have long since been abolished, but still transcend through to modern society.
The more I educate myself on these issues, the more I feel my own privilege as a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, and the more I feel compelled to emerge from the dark cave of my own ignorance and explore these issues. Specifically by learning how I can support those who are struggling for the same rights that I’ve had since birth, not because I’ve earned it, but because of the colour of my skin or my sex.
The two most important points in just about anything I’ve read on the subject of equality are:
- Don’t co-opt a struggle that’s not yours.
The first is not a difficult idea on the face of it, but that still doesn’t mean it’s easy for me to be fully aware of. What does inappropriately adopting someone else’s struggle look like? Do I say anything that gives the impression I think a struggle is my own? How do I support those who are marginalized by our patriarchal, racially-biased society without stealing the movement as my own?
In essence: How can I be an effective ally?
Just as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia are difficult, multi-faceted societal problems, so too can be supporting equality as an ally. It’s difficult to remove yourself from a perspective you’ve held all your life. A perspective that seems innocuous, but could very well be a part of the problem.
Instead of trying to decide the answer to this question for myself from the comfort of my own perspective, I’ll heed point number two: I’ll listen.
I’d like to invite those of you who identify with any race, culture, sexual orientation, or gender that is not my own to share what it is that makes someone a good ally. What is the most common way that others inappropriately co-opt a fight that isn’t theirs? What was a specific time you felt most supported? What are the most important ways for a white, cis, heterosexual male like myself to support an equality movement? Does any of the language used in this article fail to support equality?
I will add the wisdom gathered through various channels to the end of this piece, because I’d like it to serve as a continually evolving collection of the advice and experiences I receive — not for judgment, debate, scrutinization, or dissemination — but as an education and a reflection of what it seems is the most important first step towards becoming part of the solution: listening.