By Lisa Keating
Over the summer, a friend sent me a blog that I’ve been stewing on ever since. So much so, that a browser page has been open on my computer for weeks. I have a hard time getting past the title alone. I kept asking myself, “What’s so wrong with being an ally?” Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be “Allies.”
In the blog piece, Abi Betchel writes, “Allies often see themselves as saviors and oppressed people as “victims and tokens instead of people.” At first as I read this, I started to feel offended then defensive. After all, over the past year I’ve been teaching and writing about the importance of being an ally. So, my knee-jerk reaction was, “NUH-HUH!” (Yes, this is where my mature side came out). But because I am sincerely curious on how perceptions are formed, I searched deeper to understand this writers position. There seem to be so many areas that we agree on so, I wondered if it was simply semantics.
Betchel wrote, ” But as my sons grow older, I desire for them to move beyond these basic proto-feminisms. I want them to identify structural inequalities and injustices, and be motivated to work towards making a more just world. I want them to understand privilege and recognize their own.” I felt my fist rise in the air in solidarity! And yet, there was something pulling me back to the argument against being an ally.
So then what is true “support” if not an ally? Is it the quality and authenticity of being an ally? I became an ally to the LGBTQ community to raise awareness and stand in loving solidarity with my cousin who came out over twenty years ago. In doing so, did that make me self-absorbed? I challenged anyone who told me why marriage is limited to a man and a woman. I became familiar with marriage tax benefits and rights that my cousin didn’t have just because she didn’t marry a man and incorporated them into my arsenal of defenses. Then our child came along who continually pushes back on gender norms, identifies as gay and explores transgender identity openly without shame.
Did founding an organization to raise awareness, build support systems, educate and advocate for my child and every other child in this demographic deem me arrogant? Bechtel also writes, “Labeling myself an ally serves only to recenter my own identity, experiences, and feelings in a movement that is not and should not be about me.”
This position assumes that a person isn’t capable of empathy and inspired action. Was Mother Teresa an arrogant, asshole who spent her life serving the poor for street cred, a badge or notoriety?
This begs the question, do you HAVE to walk in someone else’s shoes to offer solidarity, support and ally-ship? Isn’t it possible to, from an educated standpoint, be an ally? I say absolutely! I witness it everyday; in the children I teach to BE allies, the people in my personal life and those within my community.
Maybe this is the difference between two people’s experiences, actions and attitudes of what it looks like to be an ally. I have not experienced that behavior Bechtel describes and that doesn’t make it any less real. So what now? Personally, I prefer leaning towards optimism as a personality default. What if we can raise compassionate, honest, trustworthy allies with integrity? Wouldn’t it be worth doing that rather than diminishing allies altogether?
Photo Credit (Top): Purple Sherbet Photography