The Definition of Allyship
This post has probably been in the making for a year or so. I’ve chipped away at it when I’ve needed to vent, but stopped when it came from a perspective of anger, so I’ve dipped in and out of it. But, as time’s gone on, what was once a post that had intentions to (calmly) inform and educate has now turned into the post, that I thought I didn’t want it to be but, it probably should have been.
I actually write better when I’m angry, but I wanted to try and write this from a place of nurturing, understanding, and logic, but I’m no longer understanding. I’m actually quite frustrated. But I still didn’t want this to be a mess of angry words jumbled together. I wanted this to be just right, so it’s taken me some time. But I think I’m there.
Over the past year I’ve stopped and started it, deleted and recovered it a few times, changed the main focus, and generally dumped words. It’s been with me through Pride, Mental Health Awareness Week, LGBTQ History Month, Trans Awareness Week, OCD Awareness Week, you name it. It’s actually been quite cathartic – at one point I didn’t even know whether I actually wanted to publish. But, after whats been happening more recently in both my personal life and ‘online’ world, I’ve come to the decision that I just need to say what I want to say with no apologies.
Verb; someone that aligns with and supports a cause with another individual or group of people. [For example] A straight ally is an individual outside of the LGBTQ+ community that supports their fight for equality and rights.
The thing with Allyship is that it’s as diverse as the people who need it. It comes in different shapes and forms; such as a retweet on twitter, a post share on Instagram, or being seen in a photo together. It’s writing a blog post, it’s signing a petition, it’s donating to a cause, it’s telling someone else – even a friend or family member – that their words were wrong, or disassociating yourself with something or someone. That being said, how one person accepts allyship may be different for another. For some, it’s standing side by side at a protest, for others it’s speaking up when the oppressed can’t or do not have the power to do so.
For me, it’s showing up, listening and learning, and then speaking out. Not necessarily in that order, not necessarily at the same time, but absolutely all of the above… eventually. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request, but sometimes – and this is the crux of why I am despairing – is that when you’re suddenly calling for your allies, those same people make you feel that you’re being unreasonable, or you’re suddenly taking up too much space or time, or making too much noise.
The only ‘statement’ I want to see from people at the moment is how they’re going to do better. Not, how people should be quiet.
— LesBeMums (@LesBeMums) November 13, 2019
Let’s break it down…
Unless you are a working class disabled black trans woman, you will inevitably have some form of privilege. I am Greek by heritage, but I am white-passing, so there is my privilege. I am also cis-gendered, able-bodied and sit somewhere between established and technical middle class, according to the BBC. More privilege. A majority of people have some form of privilege, however it is only a surprising small few that actually recognise their own privilege. The number is even smaller when it comes to those that use it for good or as a platform for others.
I don’t have enough words or mental strength to go into the in-depth analysis as to why people from privilege backgrounds avoid recognising and using their privilege, besides, Nova Reid has already said it better than I ever could, but what I will say is that not enough people are speaking up for marginalised communities, and this is no longer ok or an acceptable trait. People are dying.
If you’re someone that comes from a typical privilege background, and when I say this I mean someone with more dominant privilege such as being white, cis-gendered, straight, and middle class it is no longer acceptable to leave the fight for equality – and the educating – to be the sole responsibility of those being oppressed. It is immoral and unfair. It is, in fact, whether you like it or not, your responsibility, just as much – if not more. Sadly, it is the privileged who have put marginalised communities where they are today. That’s not to say, dear reader, that it is necessarily directly your fault, but it is the fault of those from previous times. This is going to make you feel an essence of guilt but that’s ok. It’s understandable. But use that sour taste and start repairing.
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If I’ve said it once, I’ve probably said it a hundred times; Equality is not the same as asking for Special Treatment, however in more recent times, those requesting equal rights are being told that they’re being too loud, that they’re taking up too much room, that they’re erasing people in the process of asking for their own space or seat at the table. Likewise, when the tables are turned and privileged people have been identified as being in the wrong, the reaction is so different in comparison to when a person from a minority group has been in the wrong.
Why is this?
One likely possibility is because allies have been so used to doing ‘just the right amount’ of allyship – often when it’s comfortable for them to do so (I use Pride as the perfect example when it comes to allies to the LGBTQ community) or an amount that they deem necessary or appropriate. This means that when marginalised communities ask for more help, a new tactic, or maybe even start to challenge the motives of an ally because, let’s face it, we see when patterns of allyship emerge (businesses are fantastic examples of this), allies start to turn on us rather than simply stop and listen. Words like ‘aggressive’, ‘bully’ and ‘cards’ are used to justify their contempt, our words and platforms are later silenced or removed, and we’re the ones made to feel ungrateful, just for wanting to raise awareness, have a seat at the table, improve the quality of our allies, have those conversations, or simply ask for more help.
How dare we!
Another possibly, and is likely more often the case, is that allies don’t know what they signed up to when they agreed to be an ally. It becomes more of a burden than a privilege to be an ally because, suddenly, they realise that their allyship doesn’t change things overnight. Our trauma is no longer trendy because they’re losing valuable followers.
On the same note, by definition of being an ally, they receive the same backlash and pain as the community they are supporting, and it’s no longer “fun”. It becomes scary and uncomfortable for them and then they run.
As much as the last few months have been painful and exhausting, it’s now given me a new perspective, an opportunity to reassess who my allies are, as well as find out how I can continue to be a better ally to other communities. If you’re not asking yourself; ‘How can I help’ or ‘How WILL (not try) I use my platform for good‘ you’re doing your ally membership a disservice. Times are changing, as are the people and politics within it, and this in turn changes our responsibility to those on the lower rung of the proverbial ladder who are taking the brunt of these waves of changes.
You have to constantly evolve your allyship.
Where a Pride march or rainbow pin was once a serious act of protest, it is now the bare minimum of LGBTQ allyship. You can no longer keep applying the same amount of allyship that you did several days or even years ago, because just like a tumour, prejudice evolves too. You therefore need to change your ointment or poison, as well as your tactics, the same way we change our armour. Not only that, when marginalised groups are telling you that what you’re doing is no longer working – listen, and then change. Don’t take offence and make it about you, because allyship is not all about you.
I’ve made mistakes as an ally to other communities, and whilst it stings when your mistakes are pointed out to you – regardless of how well-intended they were at the time – it’s my responsibility to change with learned behaviour and do better!
Listen. Learn. Evolve.
Dear allies I thank you for all that you have done and are still doing. I see every like and every share online, I read every private message and every post. I see you when you’re fighting my community’s corner and telling others “not on my watch” without prompt. But, there’s some of you, that are still allies by definition and by your previous words, that need to know this; you are no longer doing enough.
You don’t become an ally and remain that way for an eternity, you have to work at it and evolve with the community you are an ally to. Your rainbow flag in the month of June is an empty gesture thanks to it’s location the remaining 11 months of the year, you can no longer speak for me when you’re still aligned to a brand or person that see’s minority groups as less, and you cannot sit with me if your terms are when it’s only socially or politically ‘safe’ to do so. I am not a trend, a collectable item, a token or a tick in the box.
As I said at the beginning of this post, allyship comes in different forms and means something different to each person or community. But, the bottom line – the big question – is whether, as an ally, you are willing to work the same way that the community you are supporting are. If not harder because of the privilege that has given you a platform to do so. The criticisms you receive are not minority groups being ungrateful (I’m so tired of being grateful), this is the oppressed still asking for your help. Do not suddenly stop and take it away, or refuse because you feel that you will receive less or because your feelings have been hurt.
You can now address this in two ways; take offence to marginalised communities asking for more and revoke your allyship, or just learn and do better. That being said, there will come a time when your ‘learning’ will need to come into practise. You can’t just set your status to ‘learning’ and remain forever silent or ‘unavailable’.
Listen. Learn. Evolve. We have to, every day, therefore so should you. It’s also not up to an ally to decide when the battle has been won and the war is over. That is up to the community you are supposedly an ally to to decide.