Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How to be a good ally


transcript is below the fold.
Hello everyone, I'm Triple J and you may remember from such successful web series like Brainfood, as well as Capes, Cowels and Cartoons, not to mention hit tv shows like Heartland on CBC where I played a dramatic role of that one guy who cheered a whole lot in the middle of a crowd. Today however, I'm here to talk about how to be a good ally. It's part of the reason I started up Brainfood in the first place, to talk about books by people, for people who do not fit into the mass medias default straight, White, male and able bodied - unless you're Will Smith.  This is not a strict guide, nor is it an end all be all, of how to be a good ally, because like being a good person, there is no end objective, but an ongoing process of checking your privilege, broadening your horizons and being critical of the world around you. It's also partly because the title of good ally is one that is bestowed upon you and not one that you get simply by passing a test or even just watching this video.  As such, this isn't a complete list because I am still working towards being a good ally and a good person.  This is an ongoing process and if you think that there's an end point, then you're well, missing the point.

I am reading posts always by passionate intelligent people that point out blind spots in my privilege, even now and that cast even old subjects in a new light. So, because of that, and all that they do, I present just a few things that you can do to be a good ally.

Number 1: Sit down, Shut Up & Listen

If there is one rule that you should remember from this list and nothing else, then let it be this one. When going onto websites of people who do not fit into the category of straight,White, and able bodied, you must do so with the knowledge that you do not know everything. In fact, let's just say that you know nothing. Let's just say that you recently crawled out of a cave in the bottom of a sewer, covered by a glacier that had recently melted due to global warming. You do not automatically assume that you know everything and then jot down jot down the answers to present them to people who are not asking for them. It's really insulting for people who have had to face prejudice and bigotry in their lives to suddenly have someone who had faced none of it, show up and try to solve their problems them. Some people on the internet just vent and to talk with others who know what it's like to face what the face, who can do more than sympathize but also empathize by listening, and I mean really listening and thinking you're taking an important first step to showing them that you want to be a good ally and in this fight against bigotry and prejudice, it's a really important first step to take.

Number 2 Research

We live in a pretty amazing time, where there is a wealth of information literally at our fingertips.  There is little to know excuse why you should not be using that wealth of information. You're not being a good ally if the people whose back you're trying to get have to spoon feed you information every time a subject comes up for debate. You can literally google everything from how to make zombie makeup to where to buy soviet era war tanks from a military surplus store in Eastern Europe, so looking up information on social justice issues, shouldn't be a big strain. Now, that doesn't mean that you may not ask questions, but make sure that they're good ones that help to further the discussion. First off though, I have a just a couple places that you can google that help you recognize privilege in these discussions. They are:
  • Derailing for Dummies
  • Ars Marginal
  • Unpacking the Invisible Packsack 
As you continue with your research, you'll come across more websites with commentators that are smart and insightful and I highly recommend that you go their blogs to see what else they have to say. One example for me that I've found was a link on Ars Marginal discussing the number of people of colour that you see in movie trailers, what their roles were in the movie, and just how often you see them compared to White people. I know that it was a real eye opener for me and it helped to sharpen my critical eye towards mass media.

Number 3: Admitting Your Mistakes

So now you've learned how to sit down, shut up & listen as well as finding out information on your own, instead of derailing or bogging down conversation with pointless questions and now you want to join in on a discussion. The things is, when you do, you're going to screw up sometimes. It happens because well, we're human and making mistakes is but one of the ways in which we learn and we all know it.  When you make a mistake, admit it, apologize, and most importantly learn from it. You aren't helping anyone, if you make the same mistake, over and over, and over again, without taking anything away from it.  It makes you part of the problem and not the solution. Also, don't amp up the drama like this [note: screen switches to Darth Vader causing something to explode while screaming no] and especially don't act like a snobbish arsehead like this [note: screen switches to speaker dressed differently with a scarf saying "how could I be wrong, I have Black friends?] The first makes it seem as though you are crying crocodile tears, and people will just see you as a faux justice advocate while the second just makes you look like an asshole who isn't willing to admit that they made a mistake. Now, while I have been talking with the intent of giving you tools on how to be a good ally, it's important to take a step to one side and see that privilege comes in many shapes - that is to say that while someone may be lacking privilege in one area, they may have it in another.

One example is Dan Savage's racist remarks after the debacle of proposition 8 in California back in 2008. While he may be gay, he's also White and male which gives him privilege in other areas. Also, while he may have started it up the It Gets Better Project, he's also given some really hateful advice to people who identify as bisexual, telling them that if only they'd all come out that things would get better. Now, while I don't know how much bigotry Mr. Savage has faced since coming out himself, one would think that he would know better than to make such a blanket statement on others. A more recent example from last year in fact, was of comedian Louis C.K. coming to the defence another comedian, Tracy Morgan and his bigoted "humor" on how he would stab his own son, if his son turned out to be gay.  Yes, Tracy Morgan is Black, but he's also straight, which gives him privilege in that area. Louis C.K., a straight White guy, instead of taking my advice and sitting down and listening to the LGBT community and just widely condemned Stacy Morgan's "humor," instead lectured them on how they overreacted. Worst still, he said that they should sit down and have a conversation with Tracy Morgan because if anything bullies and bigots should be thought of first instead of the victims of their ire. As of now, I still don't know if either Tracy Morgan, or Louis C.K. have admitted their mistake and learned from it.

Then we have the coming out of the closet of male celebrities and how some women online have taken to slashing them online in fiction right off the bat. Now, there's nothing wrong with porn when it's done right and I have read posts by gay men who would be more than happy to direct women to some rather lovely gay male fat material, but when you take a celebrity like this, [note image of Sean Maher] someone who is risking their careers and their relationships with friends, family and loved ones, let alone how strangers would react to them, just because they no longer want to keep a secret, or they want to be a positive example to others and you reduce them to this [note: image of dildo's one is pink, the other purple in a box with the words G Spot Suction Cup], then you're basking in your own privilege. In this case, basking in privilege means fetishizing gay men. This could lead to you being identified as someone not to trust, which could very much well lead to this [note speaker is now sitting on a bed, wearing a blonde wig. He is squealing "he's gay. I'm going to slash him, and him, and him. It's going to be so fabulous. Camera moves to a stuffed tiger and we hear growling. The speaker then pretends to be attacked by the stuffed tiger] Okay, okay, that last part may have been made up, but the end result is the same - resentment and anger in taking someone's very personal decision and turning it into masturbation material.

Number 4: Confrontation

As inevitable of making mistakes, confrontation with others who don't share your views, or the views of others within social justice circles will happen, be it on the internet or outside of it. Now, while I won't say that confrontations with others on the internet is easy, I will say that you do have some options such as simply walking away from it and cooling off, or of just cutting off the conversation altogether - ending it entirely if the other person is to interested in stupidity and drama instead of having an actual discussion. However, outside of the internet it can be much, much harder, because those who hold onto such ignorant and bigoted views could be people who love, respect, or look up to, they could be friends, or family, or co-workers who are just viciously holding on to their ignorant ideas. Who laugh after whatever they just said as "just a joke", or even brush off your own concerns as you being to uptight. You could get into shouting matches with your parents, you could get into a fight with a co-worker, or you could lose a friend forever and it's hurtful because you love them and you want them to be good people. It also could be that you find it hard to believe that those who you love and respect could hold onto such stupid, ignorant, and bigoted views -- be it because of a personal, political, or religious belief. Now, I'm not saying that calling out the privilege of others as a good ally carries the same level of risk, as those who lack privilege and still call out B.S. on others, simply that it's there and it's not easy. To be brutally honest, I am finding it hard to come up with advice on what to do in these situations. Silence is by far the worst approach, as you are agreeing simply be complacency and you have to stick to your guns whenever possible. While I may very well called out for my cowardice, about the best that I can offer is for you to pick your battles, and to stay true to your principals, wherever and whenever you can. If ever there's an example of I'm struggling to be a better person, and a good ally, then this is it and if yo have any advice, please send it in. In the end, it's your choice whether to be silent or vocal about the prejudice and bigotry enacted upon others that will decide if you're a good ally or not. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, in one of these speeches that he's not often cited: "It's not the hatred of our enemies but the silence of allies that will speak the loudest". I'm triple J, take are and goodbye.

Editors Note: And the choir says amen.

H/T Neo Prodigy