by Mia McKenzie
I’m kinda over the term “ally.” Between Tim Wise’s recent (but not new) bullshit, a recent visit to a college where some so-called allies don’t even understand basic racism 101, and the constant cookie-seeking of people who just can’t do the right thing unless they are sure they’re gonna get some kind of credit for it, I’m done.
Allyship is not supposed to look like this, folks. It’s not supposed to be about you. It’s not supposed to be about your feelings. It’s not supposed to be a way of glorifying yourself at the expense of the folks you claim to be an ally to. It’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s supposed to be a way of living your life that doesn’t reinforce the same oppressive behaviors you’re claiming to be against. It’s supposed to be about you doing the following things:
- shutting up and listening
- educating yourself (you could start with the thousands of books and websites that already exist and are chock full of damn near everything anyone needs to know about most systems and practices of oppression)
- when it’s time to talk, not talking over the people you claim to be in solidarity with
- accepting feedback/criticism about how your “allyship” is causing more harm than good without whitesplaining/mansplaining/whateversplaining
- shutting up and listening some more
- supporting groups, projects, orgs, etc. run by and for marginalized people so our voices get to be the loudest on the issues that effect us
- not expecting marginalized people to provide emotional labor for you
This is by no means a comprehensive list. But most “allies” aren’t even getting these things right.
So, henceforth, I will no longer use the term “ally” to describe anyone. Instead, I’ll use the phrase “currently operating in solidarity with.” Or something. I mean, yeah, it’s clunky as hell. But it gets at something that the label of “ally” just doesn’t. And that’s this: actions count; labels don’t.
“Currently operating in solidarity with” is undeniably an action. It describes what a person is doing in the moment. It does not give credit for past acts of solidarity without regard for current behavior. It does not assume future acts of solidarity. It speaks only to the actions of the present. Some other options:
- showing support for…
- operating with intentionality around…
- using my privilege to help by…
- demonstrating my commitment to ending [insert oppressive system] by…
- showing up for [insert marginalized group] in the following ways…
These are all better ways of talking about–and thinking about–allyship because they are active, and because they require examples. This is key. Why? Because, as I and countless others have said many, many times, allyship is an every day practice. The work of an ally is never ceasing. As long as the isms are functioning–and they are functioning at full capacity every hour of every day–then the action of allyship must function just as perpetually, just as fully, just as tirelessly.
“Ally” cannot be a label that someone stamps onto you–or, god forbid, that you stamp on to yourself—so you can then go around claiming it as some kind of identity. It’s not an identity. It’s a practice. It’s an active thing that must be done over and over again, in the largest and smallest ways, every day.
Sounds like a lot of work, huh? Sounds exhausting. Well, yeah, it ought to. Because the people who experience racism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, etc. are exhausted. So, why shouldn’t their “allies” be?
Maybe how exhausted you are is a good measure of how well you’re doing the work.