I’ve noticed many people policing the reactions of (primarily) POC to the George Zimmerman verdict under the guise of “don’t offend the allies”. This is problematic on several levels.
I want to start out by saying that I, personally, don’t agree with the idea of an “ally” that we, as a society, have seem to construct. You shouldn’t get special recognition or acknowledgement for meeting the basic minimum requirements of being a decent human being by treating people who are different from you with equality and respect; that should be a given. Another thing I’ve noticed is that people are more concerned with being the best ally than they are with the concerns/oppression of the marginalized group(s) that they’re allying with. When the focus becomes about you and your feelings instead of the people facing discrimination, you’re being a really shitty ally.
I am a straight, cisgender woman. It would be the height of heterosexual and cissexual privilege (not to mention just damn rude) for me to start talking about how homophobia and transphobia hurts my feelings. I am not now, nor have I ever been, directly impacted by homophobia and/or transphobia. I have never been denied access to a job or housing solely due to my sexual orientation or gender expression. I can be denied access to these things based on my race and/or gender, but I also have legal recourse available to me to rectify the situation if that were to occur. LGBTQ people do not have the same recourse. 29 states have no laws protecting LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people fromemployment or housing discrimination. 52% of LGBTQ people live in these states. My job is to support LGBTQ groups/organizations/individuals advocating for equality and to call out homophobic and cissexist behavior when I see it. It is not my place to enter LGBTQ spaces and make the conversation about me and my feelings.
The first rule of being a good ally is that it’s not about you. Your feelings are irrelevant. If you insist on framing the conversation around your feelings and how you’re being excluded, then you were never a real ally in the first place. Marginalized groups are not required to invite non-marginalized people into their safe spaces. If you are invited, it is a privilege and should be treated as such. You should not take center stage, nor should you attempt to speak for members of the group. Once again, these issues don’t directly impact you.
I’m not trying to come across as the perfect ally to other marginalized groups. Do I screw up sometimes? Yes. We ALL do. @FeministGriot had said that being an ally is a process, and I couldn’t agree more. No matter how hard you try and how sincere you are, you’re going to screw up eventually and it’s not the end of the world. Now, this isn’t to minimize or excuse any transgression made in the past or in the future; it’s merely to say that we’re human and no one is perfect. What is important is your reaction and your behavior moving forward. If someone from a marginalized group calls you out on your privilege, one of the worst things you can do is to get defensive. What you need to do is sit back, listen, and reflect on what you did and how that came across. It doesn’t matter what your intent was, what matters is how it was perceived and received. Don’t forget: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Sometimes the best thing an ally can do is just sit back so that marginalized people can lead.
For an example of good ally work go to wearenottrayvonmartin.tumblr.com