Things I Wish Allies Knew
I’m staring down at my phone screen, watching an argument on Facebook ensue about what language is problematic to use because it’s AAVE, the irony of the situation being that it’s a bunch of white people arguing with each other, speaking over each other and jumping down each other’s throats. As a black person watching this encounter, I can’t help but feel irritated not only by the misrepresentation and poor grasp of what AAVE is but also at the way my white friends handled the situation as allies.
There is truth to the matter that marginalized people need allies to step up, to call out bigotry when they see it, to not stay silent in the face of oppression no matter how benign and small. But what we don’t need is allies getting angry on our behalf and reacting with the same self righteous frustration that a marginalized person would. As marginalized people, our anger comes not just from the injustices we face but also from constantly being put in a position where our anger is invalidated, policed and our humanity is tied to how we present our issues and how uncomfortable we make our oppressors. The amount of energy it takes to make our arguments composed involves filtering through our lived traumas, our emotional realities as direct recipients of injustice. It is not just an abstract concept to us but rather instances of our lived experience. The notion that we get to reclaim self righteous anger comes from the fact it is our lived experiences should not have to be filtered in order for our humanity to be seen. That is not a dynamic that allies, by definition of being outside of the community in question will ever have to face.
And the fact of the matter is, our humanity is still in many ways tied to how our lives are presented. That is why allies can become vital in these interactions. We do not need you all recreating or co-opting our pain when presented with ignorance, we need you all to put the labor in to explaining, educating, uplifting and representing our voices. You don’t get to just say “google is free” when someone is asking you a question about a marginalized group. Because the truth of the matter is, some aspects of marginality aren’t simple to grasp, some people do genuinely need more assistance, some people do respond better to calmness and kindness, and if thats what it takes to begin deconstructing biased systems that have kept people like me oppressed, then I expect an ally to be ready to put that work in. To do the emotion work to go through whatever frustration they feel at people putting marginalized people’s lives second to their comfort, and do the work to work within their comfort to get them to see the picture. The issue of tone policing isn’t just in not knowing, it’s in expecting marginalized people to do this work itself. We can all sit around and talk about how it shouldn’t have to be like this, that our lives shouldn’t be second to comfort but somebody has to put that work in. And it’s a perfect place for allies to begin to do so. If you really care about marginalized people not having to do this work, then don’t tear down other people’s ignorance, which most of you all also partook in at some point, and do the emotion work of meeting them where they are at.
Because often times this anger and hostility, seems more performative than helpful. One white person jumping down another white person’s throat about how problematic they are, while true, doesn’t do much to help me as a black person. They are still going to walk away from the encounter putting my life, and oppression second to their comfort. And the white ally who did so, is still not going to be effected by that decision. But everyone will know just how good and ‘woke’ they are. And don’t get me wrong, I’m genuinely not mad, because I have been that person to other marginalized groups I do not belong to. But at the end of the day it helps no one. There are other ways to show that you are safe and get it to marginalized people. Be prepared with resources to provide, be prepared to explain what tone policing is, be ready to educate. Be ready to extend empathy but hold your ground. It is possible to not compromise our humanity, but still be a compassionate educator, when it comes to these more nuanced issues. I’m not talking about neo-nazis or people who defend ICE. But there are plenty of instances of casual bigotry and oppression that can be reasoned through, that can be met with compassion. And the more people we are able to reach, the more people allies can get to see our humanity the more we fight against the inherent dehumanization that allows atrocities to happen. So if you are an ally be willing to do your part and put in the labor of educating your own. Don’t get mad on my behalf, share my voice, share my work, be that middle ground but don’t speak over me. It’s a tricky place to find the balance but it’s possible.