Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From the vault: When allies fail (Pt. 2)

There are a suite of three posts on ally relationships that were well-received when they first appeared in this space. This week, I will re-run them. This post was originally published Nov. 25, 2009.

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[In the following post about allies, I am confining my discussion to anti-racism and feminism because those are the movements with which I am most familiar. I hope, though, that these ideas have broader application.]

Last week, in a post titled When Allies Fail - Part 1, we began a discussion about maintaining alliances in the face of failure.

What does it mean to be allied? The dictionary definition is to be joined in a group to advance common interests or causes. And what does this joining require? I think mutual respect, shared activism and adherence to mutual goals and objectives. Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. And this isn't easy. I have witnessed too many battles between members of marginalized groups and their professed allies to think otherwise. The disagreements are often raw, emotional and ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes, I think we expect too much of our allies. Sometimes the privileged are too confident in their roles as allies and too slow to examine their own biases. As enlightened about race or gender a person may be, we are all products of a racist and sexist society. To expect any person, no matter how good-intentioned, to never reveal a racial or gender bias is to invite disappointment. If members of marginalized groups want to work with allies, we have to know that they will fail us sometimes. Our allies have to know that they will fail.

In that post, I tackled the responsibilities of anti-racist and feminist allies. What should an ally do when he or she has made an unwitting show of prejudice or privilege? Today, I want to talk about the responsibilities of marginalized people who want to work with allies. "Responsibilities of marginalized people"...already I am hesitant to speak about allied relationships this way.

First, marginalized people are the owners of the anti-racist and feminist/womanist movements. The outcomes of the movement are about our humanity, our treatment, our futures, our children. Our fight is based not on empathy, but lived reality. Yes, racism and sexism ultimately effect everyone, no matter their race or gender. But, for instance, women involved in the feminist movement feel the urgency for change much more strongly than our male allies. We are more invested, I think. I say this not as a slight against men. It is the rare human being who is not most invested in things that effect them directly.

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