I’ve lately had the misfortune of having conversations about oppression and privilege that highlighted a very problematic approach to privilege, to the point where I felt I had to address it.
It all came about when intelligent, normally decent, progressive and usually open minded white cis het men in my life were put in a situation that many of us are confronted with every day; their friend spouted angry, misogynistic, severely offensive vitriol. Aimed at me and my profession. I tried not to attack back too fiercely, this was their friend, we were at brunch, and had been having a generally nice time… so as he got even more offensive and worked up, I got up and excused myself, stating that I don’t have to fucking listen to this shit. Believe me, that was restraint.
I came back to the table, and not a word was said to me. Not a single word. They had moved on to another normal little topic of conversation. It was like it never even happened. Later, when I brought it up with them, they would both claim that they had called him on it after I had walked away. One claimed that they had torn a strip off him, the other just said he told him to “not be a dick”.
When pressed on the issue, one told me that he “isn’t the word police”. The other claimed that he didn’t want their friend to feel “attacked”, nor did he want to “gang up on him”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, “allies”. With allies like these, who needs oppressors?
Yes, your privilege grants you the luxury of not being the word police, because staying silent doesn’t affect you. It affords you the luxury of being able to have “rational discourse” because you are not affected, therefore not emotionally involved in the matter. Let’s not even get started on tone policing as a way to silence minorities and how respectability politics are keeping us “in line”, under the crushing boot of kyriarchal systems.
Imagine a world where minorities never got angry, never rose up and spoke up and demanded change.
Yet here we are in a world where those who claim to be allies are playing devil’s advocate. Why do they think that the bigots, assholes, douchebag scum need an advocate? Why defend them, give them a voice, when they are already supported by systemic oppression? Why are you more concerned about the feelings of an aggressor? Because it’s about white cis het men and their feelings? Are you so used to their feelings being more important that you don’t even realize it?
When called on their privilege, some will talk about guilt. And how that guilt affects them, their self-esteem, and their feelings. Yes, once again, let’s make it all about your feelings, only your feelings, because that’s the only thing that matters. This is where the “not all men” hashtag comes from, the idea that their feelings are paramount, no matter if people are being abused, we should all just take care to walk on eggshells for the white cis het menz feelings.
Don’t feel guilt over your privilege, I don’t feel guilt about being a white cis het person, I only feel guilt when I think back to times I could’ve spoken up or done something, taken a stand for someone who I had privilege over. I only feel guilty when I don’t USE my privilege to strengthen a voice, to boost a signal, to help those who are oppressed rather than siding with the oppressors because they may be superficially similar to me.
To feel guilt over something you can’t control is futile and is once again trying to center the conversation on the privileged party’s feelings. I don’t give a fuck how you feel about being white, unless you stand up against discrimination, it’s a completely moot point.
A friend more informed than I on the matter once referenced that Malcolm X claimed he wanted no white allies, and when confronted with situations like this, I can understand why. Male allies in feminism can be just as bad as the misogynists, just in more subtle ways that reinforce to those misogynists that their behavior is acceptable, or at best, a minor faux pas, to be swept under the rug and forgotten at our earliest convenience.
If you don’t believe, tone police and silence minorities, if you then work to protect their attackers you can NOT take the name “ally”.
Don’t feel guilty about being white cis het or male, feel bad about allowing, protecting, perpetuating and permitting oppression. Feel bad about derailing important discourse for your feelz.
Feel guilty about being a part of the problem, acknowledge it and work on being part of the solution.
Then you can stop feeling sorry for yourself and think about the feelings of others for a change.
If you think being an ally is hard, step outside of yourself and imagine being the one taking the brunt of the abuse. What you feel is a small scrap of the whole. Once you stop making it all about your feelings, we can move forward. I shouldn’t have to preface every feminist statement with “I know not all men are like this” just like people of colour shouldn’t have to appease sensitive white folk who think everything is about them… if you’re not part of the problem, why get offended? Oh, because you ARE, and deep down inside, you know it. Admit it and move forward, then we can talk. Until then, stop calling yourself an ally. You’re making a farce of it.