Social Justice Usage
A person who takes action against oppression out of a belief that eliminating oppression will benefit members of targeted groups and advantage groups. Allies acknowledge disadvantage and oppression of other groups than their own, take supportive action on their behalf, commit to reducing their own complicity or collusion in oppression of these groups, and invest in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression.
Source: McKenzie, Mia. Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender. BGD Press, Inc. Kindle Edition.
I’m kinda over the term “ally.” Between Tim Wise’s recent (but not new) bullshit, a recent visit to a college where some so-called allies don’t even understand basic racism 101, and the constant cookie-seeking of people who just can’t do the right thing unless they are sure they’re gonna get some kind of credit for it, I’m done.
Allyship is not supposed to look like this, folks. It’s not supposed to be about you. It’s not supposed to be about your feelings. It’s not supposed to be a way of glorifying yourself at the expense of the folks you claim to be an ally to. It’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s supposed to be a way of living your life that doesn’t reinforce the same oppressive behaviors you’re claiming to be against. It’s supposed to be about you doing the following things:
- shutting up and listening
- educating yourself (you could start with the thousands of books and websites that already exist and are chock full of damn near everything anyone needs to know about most systems and practices of oppression)
- when it’s time to talk, not talking over the people you claim to be in solidarity with
- accepting feedback/criticism about how your “allyship” is causing more harm than good without whitesplaining/mansplaining/whateversplaining
- shutting up and listening some more
- supporting groups, projects, orgs, etc. run by and for marginalized people so our voices get to be the loudest on the issues that effect (sic) us
- not expecting marginalized people to provide emotional labor for you
This is by no means a comprehensive list. But most “allies” aren’t even getting these things right. So, henceforth, I will no longer use the term “ally” to describe anyone. Instead, I’ll use the phrase “currently operating in solidarity with.” Or something. I mean, yeah, it’s clunky as hell. But it gets at something that the label of “ally” just doesn’t. And that’s this: actions count; labels don’t.
New Discourses Commentary
Allyship is understood as a subordinate and supportive role within a group of activists for an identity group seen as marginalized that is held by someone who has an identity seen as privileged. Thus, an antiracist ally is white and an LGBT ally is straight, for examples. The role of the ally is to acknowledge their privilege generally and to support the cause—but only in a non-intrusive way that does not recenter their own needs or privilege. Allyship is Theorized to be surprisingly complicated. One must not only do allyship correctly, but must be an ally for the right reasons (rather, pace impact versus intent). For example, “relationship allyship,” which is the kind of support for a marginalized group that comes from having a close personal relationship with a member (e.g., having a lesbian daughter), is rarely seen as a sufficiently pure reason for one’s allyship and is deemed deeply problematic.
The ally is expected to use his privilege to speak up (Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo note in Is Everyone Really Equal? that it is always the role of members of dominant groups to do this) but also to shut up. He must listen to marginalized people but not expect to be educated by them—that education should be sought out by reading existing critical materials and perspectives and not asked of anyone (see also, epistemic exploitation and emotional labor). Allies must commit to supporting the cause without ever feeling good about themselves for doing so (see also, interest convergence) and also submitting meekly to criticisms and slurs based on their own identity and perceived deficiencies (see also, racial stress).
Allies must not misuse their allyship to speak over or for members of marginalized groups (see also, mansplaining, whitesplaining, and splaining), however, even while speaking up on their behalf, and they must be very careful not to talk about issues of identity, like race, in the wrong ways (see also, erasure, colortalk, aversive racism, and white talk). They must also strictly avoid positioning themselves in as “one of the good ones,” because, as we read from Theorists like Robin DiAngelo, there cannot be a positive white identity. Instead, they must acknowledge and engage their positionality “at all times” and understand the complex system of rules about when and how to defer to people of color or other minoritized group members.
As we see above, many Social Justice activists now reject the use of the term “ally,” feeling that people could take it on as an identity for themselves and gain some kind of credit for it (see also, good white) without having earned it by meeting all of the contradictory requirements of allyship. The term “solidarity” is now often preferred, although this too can be problematic for similar reasons. Both allyship and solidarity are often associated with the attempt to build a “good white” (e.g.) identity and to use it as an excuse to avoid one’s Theoretically necessary antiracism work.
Antiracism; Aversive racism; Center; Colortalk; Domination; Emotional labor; Epistemic exploitation; Erasure; Good white; Identity; Impact versus intent; Interest convergence; Mansplaining; Marginalized; Minoritize; Oppressed; People of color; Position; Privilege; Problematic; Race; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Shut up and listen; Social Justice; Solidarity; Splaining; Subordination; Theory; White; White talk; Whitesplaining
Revision date: 6/25/20