Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spark of Wisdom: Concern Trolls, White Knighting and Fierce Allies

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.


I have seen a lot of various stripes of allies who fit into all of these groups that I have seen raging here and there and everywhere – and I think that's good because these need some severe attention – especially when it comes to working through the thorny issues of allies and supposed allies and the various problems that can come from various people wearing/using the label. Which is good, I think there's a lot of things that have been badly glossed over for a very long time. But I also think in some cases we're creating confusion and reactions from the first 2 may be causing problems with the last. So, I'm going to ramble! (You know I have to)

Concern Trolls

Concern Trolling annoys a great deal. Sometimes it's a legitimate, albeit ignorant, and well intentioned but foolish response. And sometimes it's just prejudice with a flimsy cover.

The problem is that Concern Trolls tell marginalised people how they should think and feel and act – and often comes with paternalistically telling marginalized people what they should do (even acting against marginalized people's interests for their own sake).

I've seen Concern Trolls tell GBLTQ people not to push for rights for fear of backlash. I've seen them argue against removing DADT because it will expose gay troops to bullying. I've had Concern Trolls tell me where I should go, how I should dress, cut my hair, to be more “butch”, not to babysit my little nieces, a thousand things I should do - all for “my own sake.”


Marginalized people know their own lives best. Marginalized people do not need instructing how to navigate the isms they face. Marginalized people do not need to be patronized and controlled. They do not need shepherding or parenting by privileged people who think they know their lives better.


The White Knight

I will always remember the wonderful straight friend in an online computer game leaping all over someone for their homophobic statements. After all, he knew that I approached the arena with no small amount of trepidation because of the ubiquitous nature of open homophobic slurs – and he strode forwards to strike down the dragon for me.

Except... I didn't actually see anything wrong with the statements he was fighting. I didn't see any homophobia and I wasn't offended. I'm now presented with someone proud of himself for defending me from an attack that wasn't and someone else who is deeply confused, who has been reamed for non-offensive offensiveness.

And it's not unique. There have been more than a few occasions when some badness has happened, I've moved forwards... only to not get an word in between the straight people rallying to protect me... which, yes, can be nice – but if there's lots of people discussing how a homophobic comment will hurt gay people and the only gay person there can't actually get a word in? And there's lots of people saying how I feel and what hurts and what doesn't... and they're not actually getting it right and some of them are blundering around clumsily and throwing in their own sporks.

I'm glad I have such friends, such allies that they want to stand forward when they perceive me under attack and who care enough about issues that touch me that they are passionate about it – but it's almost amusing to have a crowd of people talking so vehemently about how silenced and rendered invisible gay people are – that the gay person cannot be heard. And the issues I think are important to me are lost in a wave of issues the straight people think I should care about – and what actually hurt me is ignored, while the straight folks address a problem I never even saw and still don't understand.

It's great to be an ally – but if you're overwhelming the people you're “helping”, leading the charge when you should be supporting and telling the marginalised how to manage their marginalisation – well, this help isn't very helpful?

The Fierce Ally

The flip side is, of course, that a lot of them time I've felt like no-one's got my back at all. In my current on going family badness, I despair of the fact that most of my totally-not-homophobic-honest straight family are firmly keeping their mouths closed. I would love a show of support from them and it's not coming.

And it's not the only situation, there are many times when I've spoken and almost heard the echo and there's a whole load of straight faces looking at me with expressions ranging from irritation, exasperation round to contempt and anger. And I want to slink away, I want to drop it, I want to brush it under, bite my tongue and go hide somewhere. And I have lost count of the times I have felt so extremely alone in trying to be me.

And, yes, I admit the weakness, I don't always want to take point. I don't relish in the face confrontation, I largely dislike leading anything, I'm not a leader by nature. There are times when I'd love someone to defend me, to fight for me, to pick up the torch and batter back the barbarian hordes. Yes, it may make me pathetically dependent but when some arsehole has run his mouth off, or some fool has thrown a bottle at my head or even some epitome of clueless has rambled on – I like it when a friend and ally stands up and says “it's ok Sparky, you finish your drink, I got this one.”

Because sometimes it feels like being on guard all the time. And damn do I feel guilty if I let something slide – because I know that silence in the face of this shit IS consent, is enabling and does perpetuate it. So I feel I have to, I feel obliged even when tired and worn and sporked and even scared. And that's aside from the fact my anger will rarely allow something go past unchallenged without rupturing something.

The flip side is, sometimes I've been a room full of straight folks who either haven't seen me or haven't realised I was gay and the homophobia has come out. And I've felt very... uncomfortable – sometimes outright unsafe - speaking up and saying “guys, I'm right here, could you not?” I'm much more comfortable knowing that some of the straight people there will back me up, will support me – that if I speak up and object I won't be doing so to an empty room

And if one of the straight people there speaks up against it, I'm even happier. Because sometimes I'm not there. And that matters.

Why? Because I need to know this. I need to know that the anti-homophobia campaigning isn't something that only happens when we're watching. I need to know that when the straight folk are alone, they don't say “phew, the homos are gone, let us now express how much we think they should all burn in hell, crackle crackle crackle.” Is it desperately insecure? Maybe...

But haven't we all been there? You're in a circle with a lot of people who are privileged in one way and they say something you know is 10 kinds of shit – but no-one says anything? The group of white people who relish the sudden freedom from the DREADED PCNESS! The group of men who are merry and joyous with their sexist humour and the gatherings of straight folks who think no-one's watching so it's time to let the homophobia fly. We've been there, we've seen it.

And that's a problem. I think hate speech and the basic passive acceptance of prejudice in society is a major problem – it is considered acceptable. “PCness” is seen as a burden, not the norm. All the dehumanising language, all the devaluing jokes, all the dismissive and insulting comments are considered normal discourse is all the norm – which you are forced to deviate from when one of those whiny minority folks is around. And this is the foundation on which hatred is built.

And the marginalised? Can't fix that. Well, I guess we could, we could have stealthy operatives infiltrating various privileged gatherings with hidden cluebats ready to deploy at a moment's notice – but it's probably not practical. Cool, but not practical.

Privileged folks need to be the ones that say that marginalising language is not ok. Privileged folks are the only ones who can say “no, this is always wrong. Even when they're not around, it's still wrong. Cut that shit out.” When the straight people gather and let the homophobia spill out, it has to be a straight person who calls them out. When the men gather and decide that sexism is a-ok, it has to be one of the men to say “no, it's not.” When white people congregate and the racism abounds, it has to be a white person who speaks up. Because the marginalised people aren't there – and so long as the shit continues whenever our back is turned it will always continue.

So yeah lots more rambling (you know I like to ramble) and I'm not sure entirely what the point is – probably somewhere around “we need you, our allies, but we need you on our terms, to be our supporters, our fierce advocates and our staunch defenders – but we don't need you to be our voices, our decision makers and our instructors”

Yeah, that sounds good, we'll run with that for a time.