Sunday, February 10, 2013

To the Allies

tw: rape

We, the oppressed, need to have allies.  We need White allies, straight allies, male allies, etc. and we need them for two reasons.  One, we need them in order to be taken more seriously.  That's a problem.  It's not right that the rest of society (namely, the oppressors) will give our movements and causes and fights for equality less credence if we don't have someone they can relate to on our side, but that is the reality of it.  That's why the current system is fucking broken!  If we did not need allies to help get through to the other side, then we wouldn't be in this predicament of being treated like sub-humans in the first place.  That would mean that the ones holding the positions of power would have already seen that we deserved to be treated with the same respect and given access to the same rights and means to success as everyone else, from the start.

Two, we need people around us who treat us like people, whether they can relate directly to our troubles or not.  And if some of those people are the ones who don't share that identifier with you, it kind of gives you hope about the world at large.  And that's probably wrong too, but it's because we expect others like us to get it.  Maybe we shouldn't but we expect that our experiences being queer or being female or being poor, etc. are sort of universally felt throughout the people in our community.  Because, while there is that overwhelming sense of alienation and solitude that comes with feeling "different," there is also that reassurance that comes with finding others like yourself.  And even if the differences between me and the next bisexual woman that I happen to meet  are like night and day, we would still both be part of the 24-hour span; we would still both be bisexual women.  

So when we meet other people who are "different" for the same or similar reasons as we are, we pretty much expect that they will also want to be treated with more respect and stuff.  Maybe you will disagree on the ways in which the movement should go about attaining equality, which is another issue entirely, but unless one of you has some seriously internalized issues, it would be safe to assume that you both want society to make some room for you and your pursuit of happiness.

It's when we encounter the people who do not understand that experience firsthand that we feel our guard go up.  It's when the other person couldn't possibly have the same things at stake that we prepare ourselves for their disgust and ignorance and hatred, etc.  So, it's when that other person doesn't treat you like the rest of the world has treated you that you kind of start to have hope about the rest of the world because, hey, this person gets it.  This person was able to catch on to the fact that I'm a person and I should have rights- maybe there's a chance that others will too.

But that stuff, in no way, makes it okay for allies to demand things from the oppressed in return.

As an ally, you do not get to congratulate yourself for treating someone with basic human respect because that should be on your agenda anyway.  Similarly, but to a much greater extreme, it's not a favour to someone if you don't rape them.  You're supposed to not rape them.  You don't get to cash in on it later because you didn't rape them.   

(Frankly, I'm uncomfortable with the fact that I made this into a rape analogy and I totally understand if you are too- but I couldn't think of a more obvious example of when you shouldn't expect everyone to congratulate you for doing the right thing.  And, actually, rape culture is definitely relevant to this discussion about oppression and respect.  So, if you'll forgive me for doing that, I have a bit more to say.)

If your being an ally is conditional on the behaviour of the queer, disabled, female, PoC, trans*, etc. company you keep, then you are a very shitty ally.  And no one needs the shitty and faux allies.  People need the allies who think that helping others and treating everyone with equal respect is a given, and who recognize their own privilege and understand what that means.  You're not helping to bridge the gap between how people deserve to be treated and how they are being treated if you are using the time and energy to tell them what to want and how to behave when they ask for it.  Also, and perhaps more importantly, oppression is not about you, personally, if you have privilege.  Your opinions on oppression matter, they do, but they do not deserve equal or more attention than those of the people who are actually suffering the discrimination and the injustices.  Yet they do get equal or more attention, usually more.  That's because, as I mentioned earlier, the current system is broken.  So if someone is telling you to check your privilege and stop talking, you need to check your privilege and stop. fucking. talking.  Your actions do a lot more than words.  Honestly.

Look, I get it; you want everyone to know that you genuinely care about this stuff.  You want to stand out from the rest of the bad guys who are actively making things difficult for your friends.  You want them to know that you're someone they can trust to be on their side.  But it's so much better if you just do the work that it takes to fix things and stop trying to make it all about you.  One way to do that is to understand that no one is attacking you on a personal level for having privilege.  And if you do feel like you are personally being attacked, maybe- just maybe- it's because you are doing something wrong.  It would be incredibly disrespectful of you and a shitty ally thing to do if you immediately chalked it up to that person being "too sensitive" or getting angry just for the sake of getting angry, or a case of reverse [insert any -ism here] instead of taking the time to try and see their side of it. 

I'm not saying that these attacks are never just pure anger and frustration.  But you do have to realize where a lot of that anger comes from, nonetheless.  What I'm saying is that you need to understand what your privilege means.  It means that no matter how your personal experiences have actually shaped your life, you still stand to benefit more from the fact that the system is broken.  You might not have benefitted from it in a way that you can see, but you have definitely lived your life with an immunity to some of the struggles that the oppressed face daily.  And when you fail to recognize that, you are helping to keep the broken system the way it is.

If you want a round of applause for occasionally treating someone who gets a raw deal from society slightly better than they are used to being treated, that's not helping.  Because, essentially, what you're doing is applauding yourself for not being the person who broke the system, instead of being someone who's trying to fix it.

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