Check out this short and amusing response to certain problematic techniques for anti-racism: How Not to be a Good Ally. These examples will sound familiar to some readers and the humor in the piece nicely mirrors the unintentional absurdities that can result from (often) good intentions.
It also makes me think about the question of allies. For GLBTQetc. activism, the category of allies sometimes gets used by individuals to express solidarity and tolerance for ‘others’ while still announcing their own heteronormativity. There are of course other motivations, including a desire to avoid co-opting a minoritized experience one does not have, or just standing up for equality as a member of the supposed norm– at the same time, might it not be as effective to refuse to identify whether one is queer or not, while staunchly supporting queer rights?
In terms of racial justice, allies do not have the same positionality, obviously, but it may make the stakes even clearer: aren’t we ALL afflicted by heterosexist/racist practices in the U.S.?
White privilege affords some people unearned benefits, but it does not shield anyone from the fear, alienation, and outright anger around race that are pervasive in group interactions on a daily basis.
Let’s be clear: no, this is not inevitable to all societies — all places may experience varieties of cultural conflict, but U.S. race relations are growing worse in their own unique ways…or at least, the gaps between races are often growing wider, rather than narrowing. Many people of color/advocates for racial justice thus find themselves confronting absolute denial (usually but not solely from white-identified Americans) that racial inequality even exists anymore, while most communities of color perceive worsening racial relations and set-backs to civil rights-era reforms.
To be an ally is a good thing, no doubt, but one strategy for shifting the racial paradigms and making change may be to interrogate the language of allies when it reinforces hierarchies rather than addressing shared problems of multiracial Americans. It is not only racial minorities who need to argue for racial justice in the U.S., nor should white-identified Americans stop at considering themselves allies.
Instead, we are all ‘victims’ of a racist society, as well as complicit in it. Rather than declaiming, ‘I am not a racist,’ all of us need to take a stand and say ‘I advocate for anti-racism.’ This would mean uniting rather than dividing different groups, seeing the enemy as practices and institutions of injustice rather than simply other races, and avoiding a temptation to view racism as something that is only relevant to some people which can be opted out of by others.
Writer: anupama jain