Thursday, March 11, 2010

Killing "allies"

(via @kellyhogaboom on Twitter)

I've written about the relationship between allies and oppressed groups before, most notably here and here. But Guage over at Radical Masculinity makes a powerful case for rethinking the notion of "allies" all together:
We really need to stop using the term ally. This applies to all of us in anti-oppression work, whether in the work in question we are part of the oppressed or oppressor class*. This is not about people who self-identify as allies and don't work on their privilege and refuse to listen to members of the oppressed group, but to all people who might self-identify as an ally to an oppressed group. Ally is an inherently problematic. It:

1.) Presupposes you are doing a good job, and by its very use, is a coercive request to members of the oppressed group to give approval to the person in question, and more so, it is linked to an expectation of gratitude for attempting to do two things:

a) Acknowledge and work on** one's privilege as a member of an oppressor class.

b) Helping to make voices of the oppressed class heard, and actively standing up in solidarity with the oppressed class.

Does using the term "allies" equate to--in the words of Chris Rock--giving a cookie to people for something they are supposed to do? Your thoughts?

10 comments:

Sparky said...

Personally I like the term ally BUT I also think that no-one has the right to call THEMSELVES an ally.

They can say they try to be an ally
They can say they want to be an ally
They can say they hope they are an ally
They can say they work to be an ally

But claiming allydom is assuming you're getting it right, doing it right and helping the community - and that's not the ally's place to say.

Ally is not a label to claim - it's an achievement to AIM for

Moi said...

I whole-heartedly concur...I've often said the same thing about "getting a cookie."

ralphhogaboom said...

I like Sparky's thoughts. A lot.

I've never called myself an ally. But in my day-to-day I don't run into that term a lot, either. What I say is, "I am interested in anti-racism" (or anti-sexism, or whatever seems relevant to the conversation/work being done). It puts my intentions out there but it doesn't assume I'm getting everything right. I know I'm not.

I live in fear of being accused of being a cookie-seeker. I know I'm trying to do the right thing. But as an "ally" - if you can't handle getting hurt a little or called out, you are only as sincere as your fragility and fear limit you.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

d'oh! I'm sorry. I commented (above) as my husband on accident. Not sure how that happened.

Cheryl said...

I think we need vocabulary that acknowledges that the mainstream is perfectly willing to allow somebody the label of "decent human being" without actually requiring them to acknowledge their own privilege. "Ally" might not be it, for all the reasons Gauge outlines, but "decent human being" isn't there, just yet.

I like what Sparky says: one works to be an ally. I can get behind seeing ally work as something for do-ing, not for be-ing.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Does using the term "allies" equate to--in the words of Chris Rock--giving a cookie to people for something they are supposed to do? Your thoughts?

My thought is that if you ask that question, you are assuming that the person who might get that "ally" label is acting against racism to get someone's approval, rather than simply to be an upright person. I don't feel accountable to black people, not to be a racist, but rather to God and to my own conscience. Chris Rock's cookies are extraneous to me.

If I'm with an all-white group, and I call someone out for a racist remark, there's just about zero chance a black person will ever hear about it. Some of the white people in the group will appreciate being straightened out, and some will resent my saying anything. There's no cookiehood to be had there, and no one to call me an ally. And that's ok.

Mad Gastronomer said...

I've always been uncomfortable with the term "ally" because it implies mutuality -- two people, countries or groups are each other's allies -- you can't be an ally to a group and not have them be an ally back. So to claim to be an ally is to claim that you have the support of the group you're claiming alliance with, and really, that's the presumptuous bit to me.

Like Kelly, I prefer to state my interest in something.

The Absence of Alternatives said...

I just want to let you know how much your previous installment on the term "allies" and the "simple' straightforward guides on how to conduct ourselves in these conversations across the "divide" has inspired and helped me. And this post you referred to as an extension to what you have started a while back ago now gave me a lot more food for thoughts. So, thank you.

And by saying thank you, I am not suggesting that as a Black woman it is your duty to educate the rest of the world... ;-) BUT the guidelines you mapped out ARE extremely helpful because you ARE a logical & rational thinker and writer.

The Absence of Alternatives said...

I just want to let you know how much your previous installment on the term "allies" and the "simple' straightforward guides on how to conduct ourselves in these conversations across the "divide" has inspired and helped me. And this post you referred to as an extension to what you have started a while back ago now gave me a lot more food for thoughts. So, thank you.

And by saying thank you, I am not suggesting that as a Black woman it is your duty to educate the rest of the world... ;-) BUT the guidelines you mapped out ARE extremely helpful because you ARE a logical & rational thinker and writer.

Jay said...

i figured out what i don't like about the term 'ally'. it's just an announcement. it's a white person telling a black person that "i'm on your side" (and possibly in addition, "don't worry"), which can understandably be met with an incredulous, sarcastic "oh, REALLY?"

i'm not sure if i want some white people to be seen as anti-racist or called anti-racist. it's just more absolution.

'ally' is a term that whites confer upon themselves or, better yet, work hard to have one of their black friends label them as. it's just an upgrade from 'not racist'. see, our society has weakened the words 'not racist' to include anyone who isn't OPENLY hostile towards black people. minimally-educated white folks realize this, and they see that it puts them in the same category as uneducated, clueless white folks. well-intentioned white folks and pretentious crackers alike need to distinguish themselves (and distance themselves) from wink-wink racism.

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