Harmful Ally-Ship

9 Mar

For a more tweet-friendly version of this article, you can read this article on storify: “Being and Ally & Avoiding the White Savior Complex”

Ally-ship, or the notion that we can support/advocate for the rights and needs of groups for which we are not a part, is not without its flaws. The actions undertaken by allies can be damaging to the communities with whom allies advocate on behalf of and ultimately rendered unwanted. For example, using one’s ally-ship with a minority group for purposes of self-promotion or gathering public praise.

Allies of minority groups exercise certain privileges that are not available to the groups they are allied with. When members of minority/oppressed groups call out allies for being insensitive, overshadowing minority groups, or overlooking certain things because of their privilege, allies can oftentimes become offended and get defensive…

An example of an ally becoming defensive instead of using criticism as a learning opportunity: Piers Morgan’s response to the critiques of Janet Mock and the transgender community:

Janet Mock, a prominent activist for transgender rights, was absolutely correct in saying that “being offensive and being kind are not mutually exclusive things…we can have great intentions…but also be ignorant”.

It’s important for allies—myself included– to bear in mind that we are not the focal point of the issue. Getting defensive when we are called out on our privilege by the group we are advocating for, instead of listening and trying to understand what our privilege has unintentionally caused us to overlook, can be damaging to the groups we are allied with. As allies, we should remain open-minded to the ways in which certain privileges we may hold cause us to overlook the potentially harmful repercussions of our actions. We should prioritize furthering the causes of the groups we are committed to advocating on behalf of, instead of dismissing critiques and diverting attention to our own defensiveness. I do understand the frustration expressed by minority groups when allies “miss the point” and get defensive when called out over it, instead of listening–it’s frustrating when the groups advocating on your behalf don’t even want to hear you out.

On the flip side, minority groups should remember that having allies with certain privileges can, in fact, be helpful (and powerful) to their cause, as allies can use their privileges to raise awareness around issues in ways that oppressed groups cannot. It’s a matter of ensuring that awareness is raised by those with privilege in a manner that does not also cause harm to the groups they are allied with. Primarily, allies should seek to act among those who share their same type of privileges, rather than serving as “privileged representatives” among the groups they advocate on behalf of. The focus should be placed on advancing the voices of those in oppressed positions, not the voices of those with privilege.

Email me: rachel.safeek@duke.edu

Twitter: @RachSafeek

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