When Allies Fail

Tami has a great guide for members of marginalized groups to work with allies. It’s a nice reminder to those of us who do social justice work from both sides — as members of communities that face various -isms, and as allies. It can be tough in a space like this one, where sometimes it feels like the same 101 or 102 conversation is happening again and again. But as Tami points out, it is often (though not always) worth the time to work with allies, to recognize that slip-ups and mistakes happen, to educate and to share ideas — not because have to or because we’re obligated to, but because, as she says:

We have a responsibility to treat our allies with respect and humanity. It is the same responsibility that every person has to another. This notion of human regard is the very foundation of equality movements. We cannot demand justice while mirroring injustice. We definitely should not feel a need to “wear the mask” in our own safe spaces in order to make privileged people more comfortable. But we can act with compassion. When we do not, we fail at maintaining alliances. And allied relationships are too important to lose.

Now, I kind of bristled reading her opening, and I’m sure many people are bristling and reading my summary — I know many of us are dead tired of being told we have to coddle our allies and help them understand. But go read her whole post. That is far, far from what she’s talking about. Her piece really is a necessary and helpful reminder about extending basic kindness, when we can (and knowing when and where to draw the line when we just can’t).

And make sure you read Part 1 first.


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13 comments for “When Allies Fail

  1. December 8, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I’d point out that this was probably part 2 for a reason. Part 1 talked about the obligation people who would like to be allies have towards the people they’re trying to be allies to.

  2. December 8, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Here is Part One.

  3. December 8, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I feel that this describes behavior that was the opposite to the way a certain student was eviscerated recently.

    • December 8, 2009 at 7:11 pm

      I feel that this describes behavior that was the opposite to the way a certain student was eviscerated recently.

      Chemist, the whole thing with allies? They have to earn your trust (read Part 1 of Tami’s piece).

  4. December 8, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    They have to earn your trust (read Part 1 of Tami’s piece).

    I just re-read it, and I used the browser search function to see if I missed “trust”, “earn”, “establish”, or “relationship”. I didn’t find anything like that in this context. Maybe it’s true (a different point and discussion entirely) but I don’t see where Tami says it. However, I can put a check mark beside every single bullet point in the student’s favor. If that wasn’t the failure of an ally, then I don’t know how else to characterize the situation.

  5. FW
    December 8, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    I loved that post, I’ve been thinking of that sort of thing lately, the way privilege is double edged, how can you be sure that you only put trust in those who deserve that trust. It’s rough, because between the various levels of marginalization within a marginalized group it gets very bitter, everyone is suspect, and yet all of us need to be allies in the larger fight.

    That it how progressivism is defeated, the “other side” of, for example, the abortion issue – so many religious groups band together to fight, and they put aside the little issues that seperate certain sects to fight as a group. The problem is, they band together because they are somewhat, ummm delusional-ish? in the way they believe in the bible so strictly. We don’t have any big “rule book” that tells us what to always agree on the way religious conservatives do, because it’s the opposite of progress if you live according to outdated rules.

  6. PTS
    December 9, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Part of the problem is that we need to distinguish between a progressive social community or space and a progressive political movements. And these are two often conflated because of mistaken interpretations that the “personal is political.” Some people interpret to mean that forming the community or the sapce is sufficient for political action or that it translates easily or directly into political action.

    Unfortunately, poliitical movements have to interact with institutional power in a particular kind of way. They have to deal with limitations in money, time, and political capital. They have to make compromises, and they have to prioritize. They have to recognize the nature of the opposition, the art of the possible and that reform is the slow boring of hard boards.

    Communities, however, are characterized by their unwillingness to do this. They focus on inclusion and recognition in a way that seems antithetical to political strategizing. The whole point of forming a kind of safe space is that you don’t sacrifice the interests of individuals for the name of one’s that are more important. After all, people often see the claim that there interests are less important–politically speaking–as a challenge to them being recognized as genuine equals.

    There does seem to be a real conceptual tension here. And it leads to real deliberative problems when people who view progressivism as a political movement intersect with those who view it as a way of building a communitry.

  7. December 9, 2009 at 1:01 am

    PTS, your comment was brilliant.

    That’s all I’ve got.

  8. PTS
    December 9, 2009 at 2:43 am

    Except for the typos, yikes. I even mixed up “there” and “their.” Anyone else feel like you wish you could edit your comments after they appear?

  9. piny
    December 9, 2009 at 5:44 am

    Every single point? Then you’re saying the “student” was attacked simply for being part of a demographic that commits rape, rather than for being an individual who made a bunch of really fucked-up jokes about rape?

    I just re-read it, and I used the browser search function to see if I missed “trust”, “earn”, “establish”, or “relationship”.

    Here, from the first part she goes on to expand:

    Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship.

    I won’t bother with the browser search function, since it doesn’t seem to come up with much, but I don’t know how this theme could be embroidered without at least implying those concepts.

  10. December 9, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    This is a very good article and I’m going to bookmark it. Both parts of it had relevance for me, being someone who is privileged in some situations but not in others. The more I read about these things, the more I understand that a good ally isn’t necessarily someone who doesn’t make mistakes, but it’s how they handle them when called on it that matters. Saying “I’m sorry” followed by a strategically placed “but” and then some qualifiers attached to it is absolutely meaningless. By the same token, I can (and should) also be more forgiving of someone when sie says something that shows hir privilege. That means I need to be more assertive in pointing it out, but I’m getting better at that too.

  11. December 9, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    PTS-

    Right on. That’s a perfect clarification, and I think that those who complain about the haughty attitude on blogs such as these would do well to read it (I include myself in this group). Thank you!

    Also bookmarking this post, so that I can refer back to that comment later.

  12. December 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I know that unless we are having actual two-sided dialogue with each other, it doesn’t matter how many safe spaces we create. If the solidarity and honesty of marginalized groups stays within marginalized groups and doesn’t get expressed to allies, then progress will forever be elusive. This is the great tragedy of Feminists groups far too often. People (myself included) get frustrated that others don’t seem to pay attention to our unique message which we know would really help everyone involved, while in reality we’ve never really developed effective strategies of information exchange with others who are allies or even privileged, but sympathetic to our cause.

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