Talkin’ Bout Allyship

“Ohhhhhh dontcha know talkin bout a revolution sounds like a WHISPER.” See what I did there? See that? You see it? Mannnnn, I shoulda known I was so gay when I ran around the house pretending to be Meshell Ndegeocello but singing Tracy Chapman. That’s how you know. Also, if I’m in my 20’s and OBSESSED with Be Steadwell, then yea. Just confirming my existence. Y’all. I just finished this documentary called L Word: Mississippi and woa. It was about LGBTQ but mostly lesbian experiences in Mississippi and I actually cried. I don’t cry at films. But the ignorance and hurt projected toward homosexuality in that movie. I was mostly SO hurt at internalized homophobia. I know I possess some real internalized racism but to see both internalized racism and homophobia on a gorgeous woman of color was heartbreaking. I know, that was a less weird intro than the rest but you know I gotta warm it up before I let my weird flag fly. ANNNNDDDDD that leads us right into the topic for today. Allyship with a lil bit of feminism sprinkled in there!

As a black queer woman of color, I find myself really and truly angry with white or white passing women who claim to be allies to any of the struggles lately. Especially straight white female feminists. I know that I mentioned before that I’m all about action. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Change never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.” If you are an ally that does not “Act” then you my dear are not an “Act-ivist”. See what I did there? It’s great to have amazing conversations about issues, but at the end of the day if I didn’t DO anything, then what have I accomplished with my day, my life, my existence? But I’m getting SO far ahead of myself here. First, we gotta talk about what an ally to a cause is. Where’s my handy dandy Merriam-Webster courtesy of the googs?

Ally: (verb) to join (yourself) with another person, group, etc, in order to get or give support.

Koo right? Now for shits and giggs, let’s go for Activism.

Activism: (noun) a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.

Okay. So both of these positions stem from support. Can one be present without the other? Can I be an ally and not practice activism or in order to be an ally, must I practice activism? Yoda says think on this he will, but in the meantime, let’s talk about why I’m concerned, annoyed and in possession of trust issues without a good shrink.

I am a black person with a black parent who not only was a single mom in raising me and my sibling, but was also from the baby boom generation. ‘Trust no white people” was the mantra in my mothers’ house. I don’t blame her, it was just how she grew up. Then, I went to nearly all white schools my entire life and received constant messages of inferiority from white people that most of the time, I was actually smarter, prettier, and worked harder than. Then, I’m queer. Well fuck a duck. right? I’m not a singular special case. Ask a woman of color. We all have our “horror stories” and “war wounds” that white women all look at us teary eyed for and go “Oh, I didn’t know.” (Cue eye roll)

I’m in the process of reading a lot of books written by amazing black women: Pearl Cleage, Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler, L.A. Banks, etc. Most recently I picked up a novel by the name of “Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America. For the first time ever, this book tracks stats on both racism and sexism across lines of skin shade and queerness for black women. Basically, ALL TYPES of black women were incorporated into this study done BY black women, FOR black women and the stats are staggering and frightening.  Whiteness is killing us. Blackness is killing us. Existing in this world is killing us and no one is listening as we scream for help and support.

Now let’s talk about some allyship.  I am so often faced with the same kind of whiteness projecting feminist wrapped in a different blanket. Here’s my issue. There are so many people, white women in particular that I know of who say, “Yes! You’re right! This is wrong and we should work together!” Yet somehow my sisters and I are always left holding the bag. In a room full of white people, we are the outliers. When a white woman suggests an exercise that would require mostly white students to get up and say that they assume an identity of an oppressed person, that hurts the oppressed in the room, not the oppressor. Transfer this conversation to a very real room where this dynamic exists and when the POC in the room who happens to be a black woman attempts to call attention to the problematic nature and she is quickly silenced with “Well, that’s not REALLY appropriation”, then you my friend are NOT AN ALLY. When a movie night is suggested monthly by mostly white friends and a black woman attempts to straighten her crooked room of everyday life by saying that she would prefer at least once to watch a film that presents at LEAST one person of color and the white women in the room say ” You know I understand that this moment is problematic, but I enjoy watching other movies because they make me feel good”, then that is SILENCING HER and condemning her back to the crooked room that she crawled out of. If something happens in a room that silences women of color and you don’t stick up for it, but you apologize in a quiet corner where no one can hear or see you but the two of you, YOU ARE NOT AN ALLY. That is participating in the very ignorant acts that you claim are atrocious. If you date a POC, this does not make you knowledgeable nor card carrying in speaking on issues we face. Hold the phone. Hold the space. Check thyself before thou wrecks thyself.

Do you get my point? White women, take a step back. If you actually want change, you have to realize and recognize that fighting for women is fighting for all women. If the white male gaze grants you something that appeals to you, and only you, and you take it as though you were just awarded candy at the county fair, you are not fighting for all women. That is not allyship. You don’t have agency over women of color experiences. Speak on whiteness. You are well aware what that is.

 

peace, love, and true allyship,

Cathy Xo

 

 

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