Oct 9, 2013

is it useful to think in terms of allies and privilege?

A few weeks ago I posted about the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen, a powerful twitter conversation which was sparked in part by the public breakdown of public white male feminist ally Hugo Schwyzer. 

Well now there is another interesting conversation happening online about anti-racist ally work, again sparked by a public breakdown of yet another public white male ally, this time Tim Wise, probably the best known white anti-racist speaker and writer in the US.  Again, I'm not interested in focusing on what Hugo or Tim did, but I'm appreciating the conversations that emerged.

Black Girl Dangerous has a blog post entitled No More "Allies" in which she writes:

"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."

I have never felt comfortable with the term ally or used it for myself, so I appreciate these arguments.

I also appreciated the article in Aljazeera by Tanya Golash-Boza entitled "The problems with white allies and white privilege" though I disagree that the concept of "white privilege" is based only on an individualist-based notion of how racism works and keeps us from seeing racist structures.  In my own work I certainly look at how the structures of racism play out in the day to to day use of privilege, as well as how those privileges might be used to wear down those same structures.

There has also been a lot of reposting lately of the article "The problem with privilege" by Andrea Smith. It's pretty harsh and I think falls into facile stereotypes of this sort of work, though there is certainly some truth to them.  I certainly agree that "individual transformation must occur concurrently with social and political transformation."  Ideally our work on each informs and strengthens our work on the other.  But again, I just don't think that talking about privilege always, or even usually, means that we are only talking about an individual self or individual privilege disconnected from structures. 

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