“Do you consider yourself an ally?” she asked. We’re sitting in a studio recording my podcast.
How do I answer this? If the answer is yes, how do you prove it? How do you quantify support? If the answer is no does that immediately mean that you don’t care about marginalized people?
I too often have seen where the label doesn’t match the sentiment.
I had a “friend” when I was a child. He lived across the street and was a year or two younger than me. I can’t remember his name for the life of me but I do remember that he had ALL the toys and that I wanted to play with them. I also knew that, for whatever reason, he was very sheltered and had no friends that I had ever seen. I went to his house every day. He was thrilled to have a friend and I was more than happy to play with every single one of his toys, that is until I lost interest in toys and got into sports. Once my interests changed, I found new friends and left my toy beneficiary behind. Once our interests were no longer aligned I dipped.
This, in a nutshell, is the problem with allyism. At its core, it calls for some sort of quid pro quo. Allyism is only as good as the opportunities that bind them. Because of this, I have been reluctant to claim that I am anyone’s ally.
Over the last few years, the term ally has been bandied about, especially in regard to liberal causes; white liberals allying themselves to black causes, straights to LGBTQ causes, men to women’s causes. In short, it is essentially the privileged “reaching down” to those with less.
Allyship, like what I had with my “friend” is conditional, but somewhere along the way, these partnerships were presented with a thin layer of altruism. It’s a presentation that, seemingly by design, fools the presenter more than anyone else into thinking that their support is special, effective, and irreplaceable.
There is and has been an end-around of using the label of ally that results in skipping meaningful work then enjoying the satisfaction of intent over action.
My favorite example of this is the post-2016 election safety pin trend. White folks donning safety pins as a symbol of there support of marginalized people in the midst of the new Trump dystopia was laughable to most of the people who were supposed to find it endearing. It was an empty gesture that at it’s peak became a fashion trend with “custom” safety pins being sold on Etsy. The worst part of the trend was that it was more a means to assuage guilt than actually make a difference.
When I look back at my friend and his toys, what I realize what I at the time couched in mutual benefit was, in fact, exploitation. I never cared about my lonely benefactor. I cared, first and foremost, about how this relationship worked to my advantage. There was no thought or concern as to what would happen when my interests changed. Should I continue to hang out with him despite my changing interests? Maybe introduce him to a new friend? Young me could care less.
In life, you are only relevant as long as you are useful.
Allyism suggests a level of action that often either falls flat in practice or doesn’t exist at all. It is a badge that requires little effort to acquire and often costs those subject to it more than they were aware of or were willing to pay. Hashtag activism is great for bringing awareness but, at some point, aren’t we all aware? Actual activism is about bringing quantifiable change. I am neither an activist or an organizer and I am not involved in politics. I know several of each and their impact on the world far outshines anything I have ever done.
At best I have been fortunate enough to have some of my work read and listened to by a very small group of people who deem my work worthy of notice. This does not endow me with any right or privilege beyond the reciprocation of the respect and care I have received.
Am I an ally? Nah.I ultimately do the bare minimum. I try. I try to think before I act, or speak, or tweet. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for friends occasionally tapping me on the shoulder and telling me, “Nah that ain’t it” I would have likely fucked that up too. I have no interest in being anyone’s ally. There is nothing I can gain from anyone seeking my support outside of a further understanding of their plight and, through that, a better understanding of my own. I do not, or at least try not to trade on my support.
2020 can not be about the shiny things. The badges that allyship provides can’t be the goal. The self-righteousness of superficial salvation can’t be the win. The rights of membership that many allies enjoy, appropriation, condescension, and priority, will never advance us.
The term ally, as it is currently used, is often temperamental and easily lends itself to being self-serving. The very nature of its strategic use makes this unavoidable. It weakens our ability to support one another based on the principle of correctness and responsibility. I support the rights of marginalized individuals because there is simply no reason not to. More accurately I support the rights of marginalized individuals because they are the castle walls that protect my own. To not support them is to will the LOSS of my own humanity. The Civil Rights movement benefitted white women as much, if not more than the Blacks who were its foundation. Those of us who stand on intersectionalities roughest corners allow the rest of us to enjoy the plushness of our privilege.
I am not an ally, there is nothing I want from those I can assist beyond the enjoyment of their humanity whether that be as family, friends, educators, creatives, leaders (socially or politically) or anything else they as individuals have to offer. To subscribe to any other philosophy is in some small (or large) way an effort to emulate those who have oppressed me. It is what makes hotep culture so objectionable. It, time and time again, has shown itself to seek power by, dismissing, and attacking those who are fighting the same fight. The emulation of oppression can never be the path tho freedom.
The growth and empowerment of others does not impede my progress or negate my existence. This fact alone makes capitalizing through any form of allyism cheap and unnecessary. More so, the threat of assailing those rights makes the rights of us all potentially untenable.
I am not your ally. I am what you need me to be.