Sunday, March 27, 2011

Words matter

Came across this through a link on Twitter - there is more at the page ... wanted to capture the main jist of it since this blog seems to not have updated since 2008 ... this is an important message - one I don't think many think about.

Can We Stop Using the Term Ally?

We really need to stop using the term ally. This applies to all of us in anti-oppression work, whether in the work in question we are part of the oppressed or oppressor class*. This is not about people who self-identify as allies and don't work on their privilege and refuse to listen to members of the oppressed group, but to all people who might self-identify as an ally to an oppressed group. Ally is an inherently problematic. It:
1.) Presupposes you are doing a good job, and by its very use, is a coercive request to members of the oppressed group to give approval to the person in question, and more so, it is linked to an expectation of gratitude for attempting to do two things:
a) Acknowledge and work on** one's privilege as a member of an oppressor class.
b) Helping to make voices of the oppressed class heard, and actively standing up in solidarity with the oppressed class.
a) is just part of being a decent human being. If you are not acknowledging your various privileges and trying to understand what it is to be a member of an oppressor class, you going from benefiting from an oppressive system (which, as a member of the oppressor class, you can't help but do) to contributing your energies to maintaining and strengthening that oppressive system. (b) is working in solidarity, and working in solidarity is a necessary part of a strong, broad-reaching anti-oppression movement.
2.) Distracts attention from members of the oppressed class and focuses on the self-identified ally. Anti-racist, anti-cissexist, anti-sexist, anti-ablist, anti-classist work needs to focus on the voices and experiences of the oppressed class, not the members of the oppressor class who are attempting to be decent human beings and/or working in solidarity.
3.) By self-identifying as an ally, you are building an identity on others' oppression. This is profoundly appropriative, because it is making oppression you do not experience part of your own identity. It also furthers the Othering of oppressed classes, as it once again has people defining themselves in terms of not being the Other, and reinforcing the view of the Other at the margins.