Yes, it is true.
They called me a shitty ally.
Granted, it may have been one of those trolly trolls who hangs in comment sections, waiting to strike if anyone fails to use the latest correct terminology. The kind of troll that watches while you walk the heated discussion tightrope, insisting you confess to the shame of your own privilege while yielding mandatory deference to the all-encompassing intersectional inclusivity. If you slip on that precarious tightrope, this kind of trolly troll will roll up the safety net of basic humanity, point and laugh, basking in the glory of your fall. These trolls "make the world a better place" by toting the liberal party line, but their lack of compassion for those who stray the slightest from their worldview says otherwise.
So there you have it.
I am a shitty ally.
Except, I am really not.
I may be a politically incorrect ally. I may be an uninformed ally. And I may not exactly be an altogether “woke” ally (whatever that means). But, I am most definitely not a shitty ally. I justly identify as an ally. Sure, I recognize the deep societal crevices founded in white (mostly male) supremacy, and I speak out when I see power structures built on the repression of women and people of color. I reach out and support the marginalized everywhere I go. I dedicate time and money and my talents to advocating for those whose voices are being muffled.
And most importantly, as an ally, I listen. I listen when people tell me who they are and I listen when people tell me what sucks and I listen when someone tells me I am doing anything that doesn’t feel good for them. If I can, I change it. I honor them. I don’t let racist jokes slide and I stand up for what I think is right.
But to some, speaking up with good intentions are not enough. You can still become a "shitty ally".
I get it. At the end of the day I am still an upper middle-class, cishet-presenting, white woman, and I am just doing it all wrong. Full stop.
Halfway through the paragraphs above I thought “Oh dear God! Next I will be called out for being too defensive.” I panic. But my panic reveals the genius design behind the trolly troll trap. There's really no good way out without getting more deeply entwined in its sticky walls. If I fail to defend (by citing all the ways I actively stand against systemic repression), I am obviously part of that systemic repression (white silence = white consent). And if I talk about the ways in which I stand against that injustice, I am just another basic bitch, ignorant of her own privilege, claiming “NOT ALL white women…”
It's a clever trap. And when you're snared you might find yourself wondering if there is any way a person of privilege can be an ally of any kind that's not “shitty”.
I get it, being a white woman in America right now is a little tough. We collectively put white-supremacist fascist evil into office and it's fair to say that we are, on the whole, pretty complacent in matters of horrific atrocities going on in the world. You know. As long as they don’t show up on our playgrounds or in our mini-vans or keep us from getting our pumpkin spice smoothies. White women often, knowingly and unknowingly, benefit from the exploitation of people of color - other women of color. Clearly, we have far to go.
I still believe, still must believe, that most women, white and otherwise, are coming from a place of love. Many, or most (or all) white women are oblivious to the extent of their privilege, so they lack the specific and ever-changing language that trolly trolls insist be used "if one is still to be treated with human dignity."
We are being set up for failure.
But most women want all people to be able to live and to love and be safe and happy in freedom and treated with respect.
So let’s assume our collective intentions are good, for just one moment.
There now. That's not so bad, is it?
So how can a well-intentioned person of privilege be a good ally to those with less privilege?
If I do all that I do and I am still a shitty ally, how is anyone supposed to get this right?
If Tina Fey got a sheetcake of criticism when she spoke up against Nazis, how is the less scripted and less experienced everyday woman supposed to have the courage to walk the tightrope of justice advocacy? If every word leaving your mouth was met with eye rolls and disparaging cries of “white women!”, would you continue to let yourself speak? Or would you crawl back under that rock of complacency?
It has taken a dramatic dangle over the edge of a cliff for some people of privilege to recognize the pervasive institutionalized grip of racism that is alive and well in the United States. Now that we looked over the cliff, and can really see the darkness that's been hiding under the covers all this time, perhaps for the first time ever, we feel motivated and incentivized to act.
My choice? Let’s take this opportunity to bring everyone into the fold.
As I said before, when people tell me who they are, I believe them. I apply this when someone says they were assigned gender at birth that is not right for them, and when they say their day to day experiences are made more difficult because they are a person of color.
And now - here is where it may get tricky kids - believe people (yes, even white people) when they say they want to be an ally. Believe them even if they say stupid things like “I don’t see color” or “NOT ALL white men...” Believe that they are earnest, caring, flawed, and perhaps a little bit uninformed. Believe them and take their hands because for many white women this is brand new and they are, indeed, just now coming to the table because just now they have seen that the enormity of the evil spreading in America is big enough to reach their backyard.
White women often want to do the right thing, but they don’t know how. Yes, it is not the job of marginalized people to take the hand of people who sit in privilege and walk them through the land of oppression. It isn’t your job and it shouldn’t be your burden, but is it really that hard to take someone by the hand? Is it really so hard to recognize a willing heart who is lost and desperately trying to do the right thing? Just silently take a hand as we walk the path and we will figure it out. Patience and understanding seem like a humane price to pay to gain an ally in the fight against injustice.
And we really don’t have the time or resources here for infighting or shame or any other backwards-looking emotions. We are currently in a crisis and it is time to have faith.
Faith that even when allies are struggling and wrong and defensive, and even when they should have spent their whole lives deeply-engaged in advocacy, they are trying now and that is going to be enough.
When trolly trolls say you are doing it all wrong, ignore it. Ignore it and instead direct your energy to the cause you are trying to be an ally for. Engaging with trolls divides and weakens us.
Whatever brought all these white women and other shitty allies to the table, let’s set a place for everyone who wants to fight injustice, because we need every warm body and compassionate heart right about now.