Is the Ally-Ship Sinking? (Or a Study of How to Play Your “Cards” Right)

The word “allyship” has definitely been floating around the Women’s Center Community recently, as we discuss what it means to be a good ally to survivors of sexual assault, to women, to other marginalized communities. People, including me, have trouble talking about allyship because it is a word that brings up a lot of emotion from both sides—anger, guilt, helplessness, frustration. In the midst of all these emotions, all of the websites and the blog posts (with plenty of angry comments), all of the millions of valid opinions, it seems impossible to answer the questions: What does “being an ally” even entail? Is it really possible to be an advocate of a community that you are not a part of? This may be something you think about all the time. Or maybe you are thinking, “Allyship just means you are not racist/homophobic/sexist/ableist/etc… what’s the big deal?” To the latter person, I would say—dig a little deeper. These are undeniably big questions, and it is the dialogue around these questions that I want to bring to the blog today.

And questions beget questions. Who decides the communities of which you are a part? Is associating yourself with a community in order to advocate for them just “playing the [insert identity here] card?” For example, I identify as straight, but my mom identifies as gay. When my brother went to the “Dyke March” for the Pride Parade this past summer, a woman came up to him and said, “You shouldn’t be here. This space is not meant for you.” While this prompted some anger from my mother (accompanied by a few f-bombs from my step-mother), it does bring up the question: what gives you the “right” to enter a space? In advocating for the BGLTQ community, is citing my family situation as the source of my drive for creating equal opportunities just an instance of me “playing the gay parent card?” And who decides what “cards” are appropriate to play, what spaces are appropriate to enter?

The one thing I do know for a fact is that it is not for me to decide whether my actions align with the label “ally.” In fact, it is not me who gets to decide whether the label “ally” should be used by anyone, much less by me, as the label itself is quite troubled. With that in mind, I’m going to end my writing there, and list some other voices that I have found helpful in trying to answer these questions for myself. These writers don’t all agree with one another, but they all bring something different to the table. After reading such sources, I myself feel for certain that learning how to be a respectful ally is a life-long process, a never-ending practice of listening and trying to understand (while acknowledging that you will never truly be able to).

PS: I decided to take what Mia McKenzie said to heart, and publish this post anonymously. The point of this post is not to state my opinion or claim any of these ideas as my own—it’s to ask for your ideas, your opinions, your thoughts, and hopefully give you some food for thought for the coming week (month, year, lifetime).

National Youth Leadership Network’s “Privilege, Allyship & Safe Space”

Black Girl Dangerous: “No More Allies”

TransWhat: A Guide Towards Allyship

Keep it Checked: Thoughts on Privilege and Allyship

(warning: some posts do have profanity)

“So You Want To Be An Ally” Zine (warning: also some profanity)

Tools for White Guys Who Are Working For Social Change and Other People Socialized in a Society Based on Domination

An example of the complex position of the Ally-Ship:

The Tim Wise Debacle (Why Tim Wise, WHY?)

Note: These links have been chosen by the author and do not all reflect the official position/opinions of the Harvard College Women’s Center

Note 2: These links are only the tip of the iceberg. If you have a link/opinion you would like to post to add to the conversation, please do!


One thought on “Is the Ally-Ship Sinking? (Or a Study of How to Play Your “Cards” Right)

  1. We had a post about feminism and allies last week as well (the Harvard Kennedy School’s identity and power project blog) – it is definitely a term worth exploring, especially when marginalization is rooted in “othering.” personally I think it’s a dialogue that should be informative – how do you respond when you think of an “other” (even a person in a position of privilege!) sharing identity features or actions with you? why is that threatening? do we fear co-opting and losing control of the message or the story? is it okay to have one answer today, and another in six months or a few years? (yes). I think the answer, as always, is fluidity and openness to dialogue.

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