“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”
— Poet / Civil Rights Activist, Maya Angelou
In a perfect world, there would be no need for a word like “Ally”. We would all get along just fine and our problems wouldn’t exist anymore. It would be inclusive, and everyone would actually give a shit about each other.
Too bad, this isn’t a perfect world.
As messed up as this year has been, one of the more positive outcomes is the amount of resultant social movement that has arisen. With the Black Lives Matter Movement finally going mainstream, society is finally getting shocked enough to do something about discriminatory behavior.
However, that leads to a question. How, exactly, should one show support for a group that is under pressure from society? Whether it’s BLM, LGBTQ, women’s rights, or something entirely different, how does one tell the world “I support you and I’m there for you”?
Some of the proper responses would be:
— to take a stand and fight alongside those that are fighting for equal rights and treatment
— speak out against those that promote racism and discriminatory attitudes
— Or ya know, just take action whenever possible against injustice.
What is not a proper response, however, is calling yourself an ally when you clearly have not performed the work. Many people have claimed to “show support” or “be an ally” to those that are fighting against inequality yet falter when it’s time to stand by those words. They want to take the credit for “doing the work” yet have actually done nothing at all. It’s the equivalent to the high-school group project of taking credit for the actions of the few that did the vast majority of the project.
Yes, you’re *that* person.
Your performative allyship isn’t helping anyone, but yourself. You want to claim the spotlight for your own use. The world is realizing that racist, anti-progressive attitudes are not okay…and never were. To keep up with the changing times, you need something to add to the resume that makes you look supportive.
So, you call yourself an ally. No actions. Just words. As long as everyone knows you “showed” support, that’s all that matters.
While I truly believe there are individuals that truly care, there are too many out there that are just covering their ass and not look bad.
Even if you have performed in such activities to rebuke negative attitudes, there is a better way to show your support for disenfranchised people.
Just be a decent human being.
Performative allyship is hurting — not helping — those in need
This year has become a masterclass in performative justice. From positive cliche platitudes (“All Lives Matter) to taking the easy way out (“Blackout profile pics), it has become telling of a disturbing trend that is afflicting the progress of social justice.
Nobody wants to do the real work of creating progress, but everybody wants the credit of showing up.
Instead of standing by those in need and starting the uncomfortable conversations that we need to have, people have looked for the easy way out. I get it — these types of conversations are deeply disturbing and very uneasy. However, that’s the point. To tackle negative beliefs such as racism, homophobia, and sexism, requires having hard talks. It requires looking at yourself in the mirror and realize that yes, you just might be wrong in your attitudes towards people that are different from you.
A black square that you posted for 24 hours is not enough.
A few protests of passion is also not enough.
Posting on social media is still not enough to justify true allyship and social progress.
The only true method of genuine empathy is the actions and words you display every single day. When you choose not to speak up against injustice and discrimination, you’re just as bad as those that perpetrate it. You enable the racists, sexists, homophobes, and all those that seek to drag down society.
You may not be the villain…but that doesn’t make you the hero either.
Nobody likes bullies
I will be the first person to tell you that I’m not an ally to anyone, and I seriously mean that.
I’m flawed, I have a past, I have made mistakes, and I have learned from those mistakes.
Never would I want to take credit for something if I didn’t truly believe in it.
However, what I will take credit for, is fighting against those that would rather destroy our society instead of building up those amongst us.
I think Captain America said it best:
“I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.”
— Captain America “The First Avenger”
Society is filled with bullies trying to knock down others so they may stand on their backs.
Racism is bullying those of a different color as you try to establish dominion over their lives.
Anti-queer mentalities are bullying those of sexual orientation and making them feel less than they are worth.
Negative, outdated attitudes towards women prevent them from accessing the privileges and rewards they are entitled to based on their sweat equity.
When we were all children, nobody liked the class bully that always picked on the little person.
Why would that same logic change as adults?
Want an easy way to do the work and call yourself a true ally?
Stand up against those very bullies that have aged into adulthood and have been allowed to thrive for far too long.
“They killed Alexa, not a man in a skirt.”
Earlier this year, singer Bad Bunny gave one of the most profound moments of social action. He made a real statement by standing in front of the world and reminding everyone that Alexa Negrón Luciano, a homeless trans woman that was brutally murdered in an act of extreme transphobia, is important.
He gave value to her life when society would have preferred to strip it away. He could have stayed quiet, said nothing, and continued performing for the audience. Her death had nothing to do with him. Why should he be concerned?
Instead, he took a stand for what he believed in and didn’t let it slide.
That’s not just good allyship — it’s also called being a decent person that cares about the humanity of those within this world.
Even if you’re not an influencer with millions of followers, that’s no excuse for inaction. Every day, regular people display the value of standing up for the humanity of their peers. It’s not about changing the world, it’s about being there for those that you need most.
You don’t need everyone to witness your “act of support”. When you make a public decree allyship, you’re doing it only for yourself. It’s the very definition of “saving face” and instantly does a disservice to the very people that you’re trying to help.
That’s not allyship — it’s just selfish. You’re appropriating the social cause of someone else just to improve your own social standing.
Plus, there is a wrong way to display allyship. When Terry Crews came out and publicly spoke about his own sexual harassment story, he was more than happy to accept the title of “ally” when women came to his aid. However, when fellow actress Gabrielle Union needed his support for her own cause, he instead left her dry. “Allyship” had served its purpose for him and he showed his true colors.
This is why I don’t like the label of “ally”. It’s superficial. Either be there for the people in your life or don’t. But to claim that you’re a champion of progress then abandon the cause when it doesn’t suit you is just disingenuous and fake.
“Stand by those who stand by you.”
— Rapper / Songwriter, Mac Miller
Standing up for what you believe in doesn’t require much of you. Nobody is asking you to be a hero, don a cape, and go out seeking out wrongdoers committing racism and anti-progressive ideas. Hell, you don’t have to go protest every time
Just speak up for what’s right. Don’t be self-centered and worry about how you’re going to look in front of you. If they push back against you in support of the unjust treatment of others, then you don’t type of negativity in your life anyway.
Just like the kids in school, speak out against bullying. We may be adults now, but that changes nothing. Doing the right thing never gets old.
Actions speak louder than words
We are living in one of the most turbulent times of modern history. Social progress requires more than nice-sounding platitudes of support. It requires firm action and real support.
When you label yourself an ally, you inadvertently steal the conversation from those whose voice needs to be heard most. Your self-proclamation of allyship steals the recognition from the voices that need the spotlight far more than you.
Integrity is all about doing the right thing…even when no one is looking.
Instead of telling the world, you’re doing something good, allow your actions to speak for themself.
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Dayon Cotton is Active Duty US Navy and Freelance Writer. I write dope articles about social issues, life lessons, and advice on how to live a better life.