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HELP, I HAVE PRIVILEGE: More comments on how to be an ally

18 May 2012

[Updated 19 May]

This piece by John Scalzi has been making the rounds on various blogs I read (as pieces by straight white men doing ally work often do quite easily).  I like the piece.  I’m skeptical that it’s going to reach the brains of the audience it’s speaking to, of course, but that isn’t Scalzi’s fault.

It’s not his post I want to talk about, though.  It’s the comments.  Yeah, for once, I went there.  The majority of them so far as I’ve read are generally in agreement with the post.  But there is an annoying trend I commented on at Fannie’s post that I’d like to briefly expand upon here.

Basically what happened was, someone or a few someones agreed with the premise of the post, but asked what they’re supposed to do about/with their straight-white-man* privilege.  A few different someones answered with a variety of simple, personal, public, and more complex long-term suggestions (which I’ll get into below).  After these suggestions were posted, a bunch of other people–and perhaps some of the same from the first batch; I can’t be assed to look–carefully read, thought about, and considered these suggestions… lol.  No they didn’t.  They completely ignored them in favor of pleading, again, for what they’re supposed to do, because they so dearly and desperately want to make the world better, can’t you see?

Well.  I call bullshit on the give-a-fuck level of anyone who asks for tips and then completely ignores them.  Y’all know who you are.  This post isn’t for you to wail at your computer screen or into the dark of night about whatever excuses you’ve made up to not listen.  This post is going to list a few general suggestions I would recommend for people asking in good faith.  It isn’t an exhaustive list at all, and folks are free to add or critique the points made.  I just want to put it out there so that time doesn’t have to be wasted reiterating these points, and because the points should be harder to miss/ignore when they’re what the post is about.  Hopefully.

On a personal level:

  • Don’t use marginalizing language and behavior, ever. Consider owning up and not freaking out if someone else calls you on some bullshit you said.  Then don’t do it again.  (Working on this is a bare minimum requirement if you want to be an ally, in my opinion.)
  • Call out people who use marginalizing language, whenever possible.  At the very least, don’t go along with it.  Consider not being friends with people who won’t cut it the fuck out.
  • Never expect marginalized people to do all the social justice work.  For example, a cisgender ally should struggle against the transphobic acts of other cis* people instead of waiting for a trans* person to do it.  This expectant waiting happens more often than you know.
  • Minimize subjecting other people to entertainment media that’s hostile toward them (such as: cut the virulently misogynistic music from the stereo when carpooling).
  • Understand that it isn’t your place to lecture someone about internalized bigotry they’re struggling with, especially if you don’t share it.
  • Don’t ‘splain The Issues to people who are part of the group you’re not in.  Put on your listening ears and resist all temptation to take them off.  Your inherited traits don’t make you the Objective Arbiter of Reality, and really, neither does your education or hard work.
  • Remember that not everything is about you.  But if something is about you, believe that the shittiness of being called out can’t compare to the shittiness of being marginalized.
  • Cut marginalized people some slack sometimes.  Your Chicana friend’s other job as Unelected Representative of All Latin Americans is stressful and she’s probably exhausted from being slapped upside the head with microaggressions day in and out, too.
Political/economic participation:
  • Read up.  Keep up to date on what the issues are and what people in marginalized groups are saying about them.  This can tell you what your role should be in specific organizations, and how to make them more welcoming and non-tokenizing for marginalized folks.
  • Agitate.  Bring up social justice issues wherever there’s a forum for it (political events, school, online spaces, etc.).  Don’t let others forget or ignore the issues.  Don’t assume that everything is perfect in your lefty group just because it’s leftish.  It isn’t perfect.
  • Petition/vote for the best possible representatives and policies, if voting matters at all in your specific situation (you lucky duck, you).  And don’t just vote for the lesser of two complete shits.
  • Minimize your consumption of media that trades on bigotry, especially if you’re going to pay for it.  (Maybe you don’t really need to play Duke Nukem Forever after all.)  Let the creators of said media hear what’s wrong with it on the various public channels most of them have open.  Be persistent.  People will try to shut you down.
  • If you produce your own media, use it as a platform to address these issues.
  • Give time or money, if you have it, to those who can make the most of it.  Escort women into clinics.  Translate for refugees and immigrants.  Basically, figure out which issues you would most like to get involved with and research how you can best serve them with your particular credentials and status in life.
  • Start your own silly blog to teach other privileged people!  It’s fun and free!

Follow one suggestion.  Follow all of them.  Whatever you do, do the best you can with the resources you have, and be honest about what your best effort is.  Also, there is this post I wrote last year with a bunch of links to get clicky on.  Because I’m hardly the first person to write this sort of post and I’m unfortunately not going to be the last.

[*With all relevant caveats in place regarding the centering of experiences in white-dominated imperial/former colonial states, and how the internet often acts as an extension of that imperialist dynamic.  Scalzi and I are both from the US and thus write from that perspective.]

 

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