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Being an Ally

16 Apr

an_injury_to_one_is_an_injury_to_all

Source: http://openclipart.org/detail/152659/an-injury-to-one-is-an-injury-to-all-by-worker

I’ve been  trying to answer for myself the question of what makes a good ally,  defining ally as someone who actively supports the rights of an underprivileged group of which they are not a member. I occupy a reasonably privileged place in society and I often feel like in an ineffective advocate for equality. In the name of self-improvement, below is a list of all the key points I could articulate. If anyone reading this has ideas for additions, I’d love to hear them.

1. Be informed. Know the history, know the current politics, talk to people in the underprivileged group about their needs

2. Do advocate – when someone says or does something messed up, call them out even if it’s awkward and even if it wasn’t directed at you. Don’t let your PC decency paralyze you. As in, don’t be too afraid of saying something wrong or being an outsider to get involved. Also don’t assume that your work is already done and that the battle is already won.

3. Don’t ‘white knight’. It’s okay to be, say, offended by a racist comment when you’re the caucasian in the room. But don’t try to speak for an individual in the underprivileged community when they’re there and can speak for themselves unless they have told you they would appreciate this.

4. Do listen. Make sure to actually listen to members of the underprivileged group and to add your voice as a secondary  support to theirs. Signal-boost. Pass the message on. Also, they will tell you who they are, how they feel, and how they’re going to act. None of those are things you should be telling them.

5. Don’t appropriate. An ally does not a member make. You don’t have to claim an identity that isn’t yours to be one of the good guys. This is one of the best bits of ally-writing I’ve ever read. It makes trans equality a personal issue for the author, without ever veering into appropriative, self-congratulatory territory.

6. Don’t use being an ally to offload privilege-guilt. That’s something you need to deal with on your own. No one can magically make your privilege go away, including you. Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad person, but it is something you’re going to have to be aware of. Your good intentions won’t make you immune to saying and doing problematic things.

7. Apologize where it’s called for. If you mess up, ‘fess up (I’m sorry, I wanted to rhyme -alliterate? whatever – so bad). So many people get defensive about how they’re not a racist/misogynist/etc, therefore they can’t have said something screwed up about race or gender. They didn’t mean it like that and that should have been obvious, etc. Don’t explain yourself. A sincere apology and examining your words does more to defend your enlightened reputation. Good people screw up sometimes.

8. Remember the underprivileged group is not a homogeneous block. They will not all have the same opinions and identities. They will not all be ‘model minorities’. They will not all be – and do not have any obligation to be – activists. Also, you are not obliged to totally agree with any given individual in the underprivileged group, as long as you are respectful of their opinions and watch your own privilege.

9. Do  self-examine. Sort of a corollary to #7  – just because you want to be enlightened and decent, doesn’t mean you automatically will be every time. Try and think about the -ist things you might be doing subconsciously or carelessly. Notice where you’re privileged or reinforcing privilege.

Thoughts? Additions? Criticisms?

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