"F*ck off, white man!"
"We don't need your help."
"Just another white guy trying to exploit the queer community for profit."
"GTFO unless you're gonna pay us."
I recently introduced myself, Ally Cooperative, and our collective mission to a local group. In addition to the introduction, I invited all who may be interested to consider sharing their stories, observations, struggles or allyship asks with the world as a guest blogger on the Ally Cooperative Blog. The four statements at the onset of this article are a sample of the responses I received. I am a firm believer that all feedback is good feedback. Some of it may be tough to hear. Some of it may be devoid of a substantive perspective. Some of it may even be zealous bigotry. But I take the position that all feedback should be honestly and fairly assessed.
The very real struggles of marginalized communities have been, and continue to be well documented and shared. Rightfully, they should be. I believe they should be shared far and wide until we, as a society, extend the most fundamental human rights of equity and inclusion to every person. As with all facets of life, it goes deeper.
Every exploited, marginalized or discriminated group in history has made progress through a combination of activism, organization, and the support of allies. Every group of privilege and power has fought to maintain that power through oppression, discrimination, and organized opposition. Both parties pour everything they have into advancing their position. Because of the disparity in privilege and power, human rights progress moves slowly. There's no question the struggle is real.
Where does this leave allies, who by definition are parties of privilege? Allies are often chastised by their privileged counterparts. They are referred to as race traitors, queer lovers, God-haters, and many other vitriolic epithets unfit to share. Allies–as evidenced by the opening lines of this article–are sometimes disregarded or chastised by a plurality of members in the communities they work to serve, support and empower.
I recently wrote that it takes comparatively less courage to be an ally than it does to face every day as a member of a marginalized community. This is undoubtedly true. The recent comments by some members of a community serve as an illumination of that pain, distrust, and struggle. They also illustrate a sort of catch-22 faced by those who would endeavor to embark on an allyship journey.
CATCH-22: A dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.
How should an ally move forward in the face of disdain by a privileged society, and vitriol from within the marginalized communities they work to empower? How should an ally face these mutually conflicting conditions? While I cannot speak on behalf of all who would walk the path of allyship, I can offer my response.
During a much more divided and tumultuous time in America's history, where literal battlefields emerged as the platform to advance human rights and end centuries of slavery, Union Navy Admiral, David Faragut, issued a command that has become synonymous with facing adversity head-on. He and his crew were entering confederate waters filled with mines and torpedoes. His crew adamantly urged him to slow down, turn around and regroup. He was caught between mutually conflicting conditions–listen to a crew fearful of losing their lives, or fulfill a mission to defeat the slave-owning confederate south. Rather than retreat or proceed with caution, he doubled down to fulfill the mission with an unambiguous command, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"
In the twenty-first century, we've adopted our own version of this sentiment with, "Haters gonna hate." The problem with our modern interpretation is that it stops short of taking action. It is symptomatic of a broken, self-absorbed culture. "Haters gonna hate," is akin to "Damn the torpedoes," full stop. It exposes a dangerous position not dissimilar to, "Whatevs," "F*ck it," or "Not my problem." It lacks the conviction to take action. It reflects a lack of moral character necessary to affect meaningful change. It is a position of detriment to the very causes espoused as important by those who would utter it.
From where I sit, I can see the torpedoes coming from factions within the communities we extend allyship to, as well as those with power and privilege who wish to curtail our efforts.
I see those torpedoes as an opportunity to listen, learn, inform, educate, support and empower.
I see those torpedoes as an extension of pain, trauma, and past transgressions.
I see those torpedoes not as haters, but as messengers.
Damn the torpedoes? No. They're voices that must be acknowledged and listened to. Inclusion requires it. Full speed ahead? You're damn right! The mission is more important than my feelings, or the woefully ignorant positions adopted by trolls and haters. Allies don't need to find an escape from the mutually conflicting conditions inherent to their position. Allies need to listen, learn and empower. Full speed ahead!
TOGETHERNESS > Otherness