On Being an Ally (The Beginning)

Specifically within queer and trans or LGBT spaces, we’ve created ally as an identity or as a label and it should more be like a process or an action.

Janet Mock, on episode 38 of Black Girls Talking

It’s also important to know your role (or lack of one) as an ally to marginalized communities and that being an ally is not an identity but a constant set of behaviors. There’s no 100% sure way of being an ally and everyone will be an ally in different ways. I struggle a lot with how to be an ally in the capabilities that I can – it’s an awkward and uncomfortable process of learning. Mia McKenzie makes some really great points about how being an ally should be a way of life rather than just a performance in her piece about wanting no more allies (the entire piece can be found in her book but the two paragraphs available on her site are still worth reading again and again).

Speaking of learning, one of the most important aspects to consider is educating yourself on the issues. I wrote about trans day of visibility on Tuesday and included some of my own tips to being an ally to the trans community. Some of these can overlap with different marginalized communities and (for me), one of the very beginning steps is to educate yourself about issues of racism, oppression, misogyny, heterosexism/cissexism, privilege, classism, ableism, etc etc. Having a basic understanding of the issues (particularly knowing some 101 level stuff) is important if you are looking to have an actual discussion and act as an ally to any group.

A key aspect to this is that it’s important to take responsibility for your own education. Requiring marginalized communities to prove their humanity by holding your hand through concepts of racism, misogyny, classism, etc is definitely the wrong way to go. Rather than having a token friend go over oppressive concepts, go out and search for things yourself, because harassing or demanding education from members of marginalized groups is incredibly self serving and really annoying.

The internet and books should be your best friends in this process – Google will have answers and resources to numerous beginning level questions. There are videos, books, articles, comics, graphics, etc that exist to answer many questions. Speaking from my own experience, it’s a significantly better experience to have a discussion with someone when they have some understanding of the issues and terms I’m talking about.

Macklemore is often critiqued for his “allyship” and role as a white straight man in hip hop. Some have taken the exceptionally valid critiques as a way to shame the rapper for simply being straight, white, and male. Kelly Fox wrote a piece on Guerrilla Feminism titled “‘Shame on Us’: White Rappers, Allyship, and the Macklemore Problem” and wrote in part about all the horrible responses that came from Fox’s piece on how Same Love is not a queer anthem.

One of the things I have learned over the past few years is that as an ally, you should always be centering the voices of the marginalized and oppressed. Don’t speak for the “voiceless” – everyone has a voice and as allies, we should work to allow others to speak for themselves.  Shut up and listen when people are sharing their experiences – don’t make spaces about your privileged identities. Take some time to deconstruct your privileged identities but almost always, those times should be done separately from spaces that are centering marginalized communities. Be okay with taking the sidelines – things aren’t always going to be about you and that’s so okay.

It’s also so important to be okay with getting called out about mistakes that you might make trying to navigate being an ally. Everyone is human and makes mistakes but like I’ve written previously, if you keep making the same mistakes, they don’t become mistakes but a constant set of behaviors and they’re much harder to forgive.

It’s also important that if you have the capabilities, to also financially support those doing the work. There are so many people and movements that need financial help to keep working and fighting on numerous different issues.

Of course, these are just a few of the ways in which I’ve tried to act and behave as an ally. Again, there’s no exactly right way to act as an ally to communities (although there are clearly many wrong ways). And there are many other ways that I haven’t listed as to how to act as an ally. These are just some of the many many behaviors to learn if you want to act as an ally and there’s so much more that can be done. There’s so much more that goes into being an ally and an activist in general that for now, I’ll leave it here and will soon write another post expanding even more on this.

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