Something you hear a lot in liberal circles is that privileged people need to be “good allies” toward disadvantaged groups, with that entailing a handful of vague actions. I’m not a fan of the word “ally,” but the fact that it is used so often is perhaps one of the greatest insights into one of the negative aspects of the stereotypical “liberal-minded” mentality. What does “ally” mean?
a person who associates or cooperates with another; supporter
There’s something off about the word though, when applied to social justice. It isn’t an entirely positive thing. Liberals talk about equality–that is their end goal. They want people to be treated equally, despite their differences. And they don’t just want legal equality, they want social equality—justice from both the law and their neighbors.
But the word “ally” doesn’t come with that connotation. Until the new century’s version of social justice activism came along, “ally” was not a word applied to many things besides war. The Allied Nations, America’s allies, allied with the enemy: you get the gist. Being an ally isn’t a bad thing, by any means, but it’s not something that implies solidarity or compassion, it just implies, well, cooperation. Your allies are people who you aren’t fighting with at the moment. And that is the connotation of “ally:” someone who I’m not fighting with right now. Not “someone who I don’t want to fight with because fighting is bad” or “someone who I hope to never fight with” or “someone who likes me and cares about my well being”–just someone who may or may not actually care about me at all but who has a mutual enemy at this current time, so I guess we’ll try to get along. Ally-ship is cooperation, but there’s no implication that it’s because they have a mutually caring relationship–it’s cooperation for X, Y, Z reasons, and cooperation that may or may not last for any long period of time.
And that’s the relationship so many activists say they want. Out of all of the relationships you could have described as the ideal relationship between two groups of people, you chose the one that boils down to “people who don’t currently want to fight me.” And, of course, the word “ally” opens up the opportunity to imply that one group is more/less [insert adjective here] than another group, and that one group should be doing more Z than another one, which may be how it is, but you also may want to avoid that implication in a movement specifically oriented toward evening that difference out. You could pick “partners,” “colleague, “cohorts,” “teammate,” “friend”–what about just “friend,” what’s wrong with that? How about “brothers/sisters in arms” if you want to stick with all the war-time rhetoric?
Hell, at least the Communists picked a word that actually implied something positive. “Comrade” at least came with the implication that anyone who was your comrade was your equal. Every single one of those words would be better at getting the “everyone should be treated with equality and humanity” idea across better than “ally.” Yet that’s the word they picked, and that simple word choice shows the one thing that makes current liberal movements the most disorganized, prone-to-falling-apart things ever: For all their talk of equality, they separate people in to opposing groups far too much for their own good.
Stereotypical liberals, for all their talk of how everyone should be treated equally despite what demographic they may fall into, are ironically really into treating people unequally based of of what demographic they fall into. And they do this within their own groups and their own meetings. It’s one of the reasons I don’t tend to go to left wing conferences or workshops anymore despite being way more than a bit skewed to the left (you could not call me a moderate liberal, just based off of what I think). If I have to go to another workshop where the black people are separated from the white people because we need one session for “allies” and one for “the oppressed group of the hour,” where we can inevitably talk about the same things we always talk about and get nothing new or interesting accomplished, I will pull my fucking hair out.
I even got to go to one of the “privileged allies” sessions once after deciding that having a crush on a girl in high school once wasn’t enough for me to count myself as bi, so I went to the straight-person talk about how to be a better “ally” to my LGBT friends and spent 30 minutes sitting around with other not-gay people talking about how we didn’t really know what to talk about because there were no gay people around to bounce questions off of.
Then there’s of course the progressive stack system, the most non-progressive idea in the history of equal discussion and also totally contrary to the often stated belief that minorities “shouldn’t have to be educators.” If you don’t know what the progressive stack is, here you go: the lower class, bi-polar black atheist transsexual lesbian woman in a wheelchair gets to talk first because she hit the jackpot when it comes to who is the most oppressed. That’s the ten in this situation. And where you fall on that 1-10 spectrum determines when you get to speak up, with straight white males being the last in line because they’ve “dominated the discussions for long enough.” Because all straight white guys are a hive-mind in constant agreement and not one of them has anything new to say, am I right?
I will say that I am paraphrasing in a negative way. Here’s the actual definition:
A progressive stack is a technique designed to ensure that people from marginalized groups get a chance to speak. It is sometimes an introduction to, or stepping stone to, consensus decision-making in which simple majorities have less power.
It doesn’t sound all that bad on paper, but, in the end of the day, it is still a system that implies that someone’s opinion is intrinsically tied to their skin tone and what’s in-between their legs, and that said opinion is worth less and/or inherently biased and unhelpful if it comes from someone who happens to share the skin tone and genitalia of the majority. I already asked in one of my other articles the question of, “What inherently makes a minority more knowledgeable than anyone else on issues of identity since experience does not automatically more knowledge make?” So a minority person isn’t going to automatically have something more insightful to say than a white guy. Also, this totally goes against the idea that minorities shouldn’t have to be representatives of their race or teachers for the majority.
It kind of seems like you should let the people who know what they’re talking about speak first, and if that’s a minority fine. I go to liberal arts college–I have first hand experience of the minority kid who knows nothing getting up and rambling on for ten minutes with their non-question that can’t even be addressed because it was just them spouting words and taking up time that could have been used for someone who actually had something to say to put their piece in.
So yeah, not a fan of progressive stacks, and that’s coming from someone who would totally be near the front of the line to talk in almost every situation of identity. I just don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it values the right things. I think it talks down to people. I think it perpetuates the inequality by overcompensating–trying to make it equal by telling the whites the STFU and let everyone else talk. Equality, to me, would be to stop determining who had something of worth to say based upon what assholes from history their features resemble the most.
A foot race isn’t equal when your team gets to pull forward only because you took the previous winner and had someone kick them in the shin every time they got too close to the front. That’s just condescending to everyone. It’s also not fair when one runner has to start five yards behind the other ones, and that’s the injustice they’re trying to correct. Unfortunately, they’re correcting it by creating spaces where everyone starts at the same spot, but that whole shin-kicking thing also happens. You can’t create an equal space by having one group take a step forward and the other group take two steps back to compensate for the fact that Group 1 didn’t get to step forward for too long. The first group takes a step forward, and that’s where it should stop.
Because of this separatist attitude, you get articles like this one
, that essentially tells an entire group of people that in order to be a “good ally” that they need to STFU. You get articles like this one
, wherein feminists just in-fight with each other because white feminists and black feminists are different.
They’re separatist to a fault. They engage in identity politics to a fault. And because of that, their movements are prone to falling apart the way that Occupy Wall Street did. They aren’t cohesive, and so they don’t last. There’s no sense of “We are a group of people with a common goal!” There’s no sense of “We are all equals here.” There’s no sense of “We’re all in this together,” to quote High School Musical.
There’s only a sense of “Everyone here is different from me. Everyone here is privileged in X, Y, Z ways that I am/am not.” It focuses on things that make people different. And as it turns out, it’s really hard to get shit done when all you do is hammer in the point that you are different, and since you’re all different, you inherently all have different goals. The mutual goal is completely and utterly overshadowed by all the talk of how everyone is separate.
And, of course, everyone is an individual. But that’s not how it’s spun. It’s spun not as individuals being different but as demographic groups being insurmountably different. In fact, it totally underplays the fact that individual people are different by saying that your status as a member of X Group is more important to the formation and merit of your opinions than the thought processes behind your opinions are (the whole, you’re privileged because you’re X, Y, Z therefore your opinion is intrinsically biased against the underprivileged idea). That’s why liberals are so often confused when a woman isn’t a feminist or a black person isn’t for affirmative action–they’re dead set on the idea that what you are has an unbreakable death grip on what you think, with “what you are” being so sub-categorized that it’s insane. It’s a fault of identity politics–all of your identities have to factor into how you do things. All of them.
So not only does it have all of the negative effects of individualism (ie, lack of teamwork), but it also lacks the good points of individualism (ie, acknowledging that every person is, well, an individual person). You are what your group is, and your group is at odds with all the other groups, but you can be a “good ally,” and that’s how it’s spun. It creates an Us vs. Them scenario among its own ranks–it makes people see themselves as opposed to another group of people who they are supposed to be in the same movement with. That may not be what they want to happen, but when you separate people into groups and label one of those groups as “the group that just doesn’t get it/needs to learn,” turns out that that creates some tension.
We’re not all in this together. We’re all in this together . . . except for if you’re white because then you have to go to this separate talk specifically for white people, but not if you’re a white woman because the white guys are different from you so you have a different group, and if you’re black you go to this other talk specifically for you with that gender line being there too, unless you’re black and gay in which case there’s a totally different group for you to go to, but if you’re a white passing black gay person there’s another group for you to go to, but also if you’re gender queer there’s a separate group for you guys, but only people of color gender queers. . . and in the end of the day we’re all going to convene and try to get shit done. Yep. We’re awesome at making people feel like they’re rallying under a cause together.
Let’s compare that to conservative movements, which, in a total inversion, tend to go on forever and ever into the sunset, never stopping even though they should. I don’t agree with conservatives at all, but one thing I can say about them is that when a conservative group wants things done it gets shit done. Why is that? Why did Occupy Wall Street end up crashing and burning whereas the Tea Party is still going strong right now?
My bet is on this separatism idea. Conservative movements are shit at inclusion. They are not diverse. At all. That’s the Republican Party’s main problem: It has no fucking idea what anyone who isn’t in a very specific demographic wants or thinks at all. That’s why you get “binders full of women,” and “I know what it’s like to be poor, my wife had to give up her dressage horse,” comments and people trying to appeal to the coloreds by getting a tan before giving a speech. They just don’t get it. They’re shit at inclusion.
But what they’re good at is making the people who do fit their target base feel like they’re part of a team, as opposed to liberals who are awesome at including all types of people but who are way too hung up on that fact to get anything else done. Liberal movements create an Us vs. Them situation within their own movement, and so they fail. Conservative movements create an Us vs. Them situation between them and everyone else, which turns out to be a much more conductive way of actually accomplishing things. Now, I don’t think either of those things are good things to do, of course, but at least the conservatives’ self-sabotage is based in them not listening to people who they know they disagree with, which at least makes sense. The liberals are too busy in-fighting to even start irrationally disregarding the opinions of the people who they’re actually trying to fight against. Conservatives are the pack of wolves that irrationally kill everything in sight until there’s nothing left and they all starve to death. Liberals are the pack of wolves that irrationally start killing each other until the last wolves remaining all starve to death because who’d a thunk, we actually needed those other guys.
Conservative groups are great at giving people the “We’re all in this together.” sense. They’re awesome at giving people the impression that everyone in the group is equally important and that everyone’s voice matters, and that if you are more important it’s because you earned that authority, it wasn’t just arbitrarily given to you. They’re great at making people feel like they’re in an environment that’s fair, an environment where everyone is an individual and where every individual is judged based upon merit. And this gives them infinitely more cohesion than liberal movements that seem so intent on making things equal that they eat themselves in the process.