allies

About anger and social violence

Those of us who experience routine social violence can’t afford to become enraged about it every single time. We also can’t afford to fight it every single time.

If you don’t experience social violence, this can be hard to understand. It can be easy to think we’re under-reacting and that we ought to be flying into a rage and reporting it. You might want to get furious on our behalf.

As furious as you think you’d be if that happened to you. The thing is, when it happens to you multiple times every day, you can’t always afford to make a big deal of it. If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else. It’s important to fight sometimes, but not always. There are other things to be getting on with.

So telling someone “wow, you should report that!” is not necessarily a helpful response.

Similarly, it also isn’t helpful to try to calm someone down or come up with lots of ways to interpret what happened as just an innocent misunderstanding. 

Misunderstandings aren’t so benign when they happen to you several times a day and prevent you from doing what you need to do. Particularly when people become hostile when you tell them that they’re creating a problem, no matter how polite you are about it. Sometimes things really are that bad, and sometimes you’re not in a position to fix them.

Sometimes we don’t need help adjusting our perspective, or help filing a complaint. Sometimes what we need is to know that you are willing to listen to something that happened to us, and that you will believe us and understand.

Sometimes, you can’t make it better in that moment. Sometimes, we can’t make it better, and all we can do is survive it. We can’t fight every battle. And sometimes, the battles we don’t fight can take as heavy a toll on us as the battles we do fight. It is not easy to let things go when they are unjust and in which we’d really like to fix things. But, the only thing to do is see it as unjust *and* go on without fighting a battle then and there.

Just as no one should ever have to fight these battles alone, no one should have to be alone when they decide to sit out a particular battle. We need support every time this kind of thing happens, not only in instances in which we’re directly fighting.

If you want to be a good ally, don’t pressure people to fight every battle. Instead, stand with them consistently, when they chose to fight, and when they regard discretion as the better part of valor. Presume that they are capable of making those calls, listen respectfully, and offer support that is appropriate to the situation and consistent with the choice they are making about it.

Sometimes, in a situation, all you can do is listen, understand, and be someone who understands that they are being treated unjustly and that it isn’t their fault. It hurts not to be able to do more, but it’s important not to let that pain get in the way of offering the support, respect, and listening that can help some in that situation.

You can’t always fix things, either by fighting or by explaining things away. Sometimes there is no ready solution. But, you *can* always be a respectful ally.

tiraspark:

Real situations are complicated

realsocialskills:

I don’t think allies /ever/ need more support than the marginalized group? Yes, allies need support sometimes. But not as much as the people actually dealing with the oppression.
realsocialskills said:
In a general sense, I agree with…

tiraspark said:

I think the type of support needed changes, though, depending on if a person is part of an oppressed group or not. Like, getting fired for supporting a group of people feels very different from getting fired for being a type of person. Both are bad, both can completely wreck a person, but the type of support needed is probably different.

Also, folks can be allies and oppressed in other ways.

So like, a cishet guy may be an ally to my queer group, but also be disabled and need support in that sense. And support in being an ally (like his disability may mean he can’t speak up and call people out verbally, but in written or signing format he can, etc)

realsocialskills said:

I agree with all of this.

To put my initial point more clearly though, I think it is important for activist communities to understand that:

  • Allies matter, and they are part of the communities of people who fight a particular evil
  • Allies put themselves on the line for us
  • They pay a price for standing with us
  • And, sometimes, that means they need help dealing with the consequences
  • When people have our backs, we need to have theirs, to the extent that we can without undoing the work we’re fighting to do
  • Ally concerns should not become central in the community
  • Fighting evil comes first
  • But allies matter, they’re part of the community, they pay a price, and sometimes they need support, and it’s possible to give it without centering ally perspectives in activism