The Art of Being an Ally

Being an ally means laying aside my own feelings and recognizing the larger forces at work beyond what affects only me and people who look like me. Being an ally means shutting down the pride that says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s not good for you; it’s good for me and that’s all that matters.” Being an ally means hearing hard things without getting immediately defensive.

by Michelle Palmer

DISCLAIMER: This is going to be a far more personal post than usual, and I’ll start with a confession. I’ve been thinking about this post for well over a month. I’m typing the first words of it at 8:45 PM the night before it’s meant to be published. I’m no stranger to procrastination, but this time it’s because I’m a bit overwhelmed and a bit afraid of what I want to say. I hope you’ll bear with me.

593ff1b91d00002900cc2ac9I first started thinking about writing this post when I saw Wonder Woman and loved it. But it didn’t take long, because of the people and pages I follow, before I saw a post on my timeline lambasting it. (A post which I am very annoyed to say I now can’t find.) The author made several excellent points. Firstly, she spoke about the tropes used on two of the featured Black women at the start of the film: the first a “mammy” figure chasing after Diana and the second a “brute” figure fighting Antiope (eloquently explained in this post by Cameron Glover). Then she spoke about Gal Gadot’s problematic Zionist views (outlined in detail in this post by Susan Abulhawa), which she and many others find deeply oppressive and unjust.

I don’t intend to tackle either harmful Black stereotypes or intersectionality or the Israel-Palestine conflict in this post.

Today, I want to tackle my white fragility.

329958-fragileWhat happened when I was confronted with the notion that Wonder Woman wasn’t perfect was a deep frustration…an exhaustion…a temptation to give up. It wasn’t just Wonder Woman. I remember thinking at the time about all the other frustrating and exhausting things I kept encountering that particular week. I just wanted a win. I wanted something to enjoy, something that I didn’t have to question.

That reaction was prideful and unfair, and it revealed my fragility.

You see, the truth is that even though feminism matters and there is some good to be said about Wonder Woman, the film is not intersectional; it’s not good for women of color like it is for white women. The truth is that minority groups, especially women in minority groups, don’t have the luxury of just ignoring what’s problematic. (Erynn Brook had a similar experience and writes about it beautifully in her post on Medium.)

As a privileged white woman, I can easily ignore what’s problematic and focus entirely on what’s good and post a highly-edited, shiny photo of my ticket stub with the caption “OMG BEST MOVIE EVERRR.” I can comfort myself and shy away from harsh truths and keep myself shielded from unfortunate realities. But that’s a temptation I don’t want to fall into.  

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Why? Because I want to be an ally.

Being an ally means laying aside my own feelings and recognizing the larger forces at work beyond what affects only me and people who look like me. Being an ally means shutting down the pride that says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s not good for you; it’s good for me and that’s all that matters.” Being an ally means hearing hard things without getting immediately defensive.

It can get complicated too. There are a lot of voices. And I’m still not sure I can explain intersectionality on my own without Google. (Though this article by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the law professor who coined the term, gives the clearest explanation I’ve come across yet.) But there are lots of articles, posts, and websites that make it plain and simple. Here are some I really like:

I encourage you to check them all out, but I’ve summarized them down to the bare bones here in case you don’t.

    • When you see it, call it out. Don’t let racism go unchecked. In your workplace, in your home, on your Facebook page, in your church. Challenge racism every single time you see it.
    • Get educated. (Find resources here and here.) Know about redlining, systemic racism, and mass incarceration.
    • Amplify the voices of people of color. Post stories and videos on your social media pages. Be supportive in your workplace and community and church, and don’t let other White people silence POC. Pass the mic as often as you can.
    • Listen. Listen. Listen.

There’s more to it, of course, but that’s a good place to start.

Last week, a friend of mine shared this picture on Facebook, and the quote absolutely floored me. I love it, and I feel like I need it tattooed on my arm so I can be reminded of it every single day.

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Then Sunday night, we were watching Captain America: Civil War, and Peter Parker said, in his own Peter Parkery kind of way, almost the same exact thing:

“When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you.”

The way Spiderman says it is less fancy, but it speaks the same truth:

Being an ally means doing all I can to end the vices and the bad things, and failure to do so is failure.

 


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