On the whole Ally Mouthpiece Thing

24 09 2012

I think part of the whole “Ohgod why is this ally saying shitty stuff” comes from how we treat them. I’m not saying that that excuses shitty allyness; goodness knows they fuck up fine all on their own a lot of the time. But when you tell people “just shut up and repeat what we say”, then inevitably you get them repeating the stuff from the more facepalm-inducing members of a given community.

No member of a community is sacred or always right, even when they’re in an oppressed group, talking about things related to that group. This isn’t something we generally talk about, and I think that’s because there’s a subconcious vibe that this is a Dangerous Idea; we’d like to always be seen as right, especially on stuff related to us, and fuck knows we don’t need more allies coming along and saying “No, you’re wrong about this stuff related to you”. That’s a massive problem that we don’t need more of.

But we do need allies to engage their critical faculties, because there are rifts and disagreements and assholes in communities, and if they just signal boost every thing that a community says, then they end up amplifying the shit as much as the good stuff. I can’t comment on other groups, but fuck knows I don’t want allies to go away thinking that Curebies have the answer on autism, or Radfems on women, or Harry Benjamin Syndrome fangirls on trans issues.

So, yeah. I hear “Shut up and listen, then signal boost what we say” given a lot as the general advice for allies. While it can be a good rule of thumb, I think we risk encouraging them to disengage their critical faculties whenever they hear any one of Group X talk on this stuff. Which is never a good idea; It’s bad for us because they’ll parrot the assholes. It’s confusing as fuck for them because there are inevitably conflicting messages.

It’s easy to dismiss the latter as “yeah cis/male/white/straight/abled problems, whatever”, but it is a genuine problem. Some issues you can’t simultaniously hold Position X & Position Y as true without some serious cognitive juggling. A good rule of thumb at this point is “do you really need to hold an opinion on this anyway?”.

Sometimes however it is the case that they need to, as more often than not allies (and other people in positions of privilege) tend to be in positions of power where they make decisions that will seriously affect minority groups. If we just tell them to listen to two contradicting statements and somehow support them both, we just alienate them and they’ll end up either a) wandering off and making their own decision on the matter without any input from us, or b) accepting the first perspective they hear from any community member as true. We need to add an addemendum; “Listen and think about it.” Especially on issues where there’s visable community disagreement on an issue.

They’ll still get shit wrong (and at this point, who the fuck is they? I’m a I-hope ally to some groups, and certainly not a member. I think this applies to all of us to some degree) but it’s better than the idea that we’re always right, even when we contradict ourselves or say blatantly oppressive things.