Are You a Friend or an Ally?

In the past few years, especially with the rise of Donald Dump as our President, many marginalized groups have been brought to the forefront of our news and media. Not for positive or exciting reasons either.

  • Woman have had their autonomy over their bodies challenged.
  • Black people have been murdered by the police and domestic terrorists.
  • LGBTQ+ people have their rights constantly attacked by religious zealots and murdered.
  • Hate crimes against Jews has increased.
  • Muslim people are still discriminated against.
  • Mexican people have been publicly attacked by our racist President.

It’s been a disgusting time period in our nation’s history. We tend to have a lot of these though. These just happen to be the ones many of us are alive to experience and/or remember.

It’s during these dark times that people have started to fight back. They’ve started to unite and raise their voices against the oppressor who have the privilege and power.

It is one thing for people who are part of those marginalized groups to raise up and fight back. It can almost be expected. For example, if you are gay, you’re going to be pro gay rights (don’t get me started on the self hating gays, that’s another post waiting to happen). I will tell you, the day that marriage equality passed in the United States, I was beside myself! Someone told me while I was at work and I immediately started crying at my desk. The LGBTQ+ folks at work and I started looking for each other so we could celebrate (and ugly cry) together.

That day we also had a lot of support from people who supported us. Specifically, our heterosexual friends. They were excited for us and were happy that we were happy. It was a huge landmark day for our community! I think a lot of us in marginalized groups find friends in minority groups that are different from us. It should be that way. Friendship circles should be diverse and inclusive (although the Like Me bias can and does prevent that).

Friends are always great to have. Human beings need connection and friendship. There is something I do need to clarify though. Being a friend is not the same thing as being an ally.

Yup, you read that right. Just because you are friends with someone who is a minority doesn’t automatically make you an ally.

I have heard this said before: “I have gay friends so I’m an ally.” No. That means you are friends with gay people. A friend is someone who you build a bond with, go out with, hang out with, and might have a long term friendship with.

An ally, however, is more than that. An ally is someone who is well informed and can even speak to the oppression that other groups of people experience. Sometimes an ally doesn’t have to be your friend. They are just someone who is well versed and does the right thing that you don’t even know. Allies champion for the entire group, not just their friends. Some allies get in the trenches by moving into activism. They attend peaceful Black Lives Matter protests or gay pride events even if they aren’t black or gay. They march with thousands of women even if they themselves do not identify as women.

I recently facilitated a diversity and inclusion session with a group of about 12 people. In that group was someone who identified as a straight white man. He was what the other facilitator (a black women) and I (a gay man) called “woke AF.” This guy knew his shit about everything related to people of color, LGBTQ+, women, and the intersectionality that applies to all. He was so knowledgeable that we basically let him run the session and only jumped in when needed (which was basically to click the PowerPoint to the next slide). That is a level of knowledge that every marginalized group needs from our allies.

That doesn’t always happen though. Instead, marginalized groups can sometimes find solace by building friendships with other marginalized groups. The shared suffering of oppression has a way of bringing people together. White gay men and black women are a prime example of this. However, allyship between minority groups can also go dreadfully wrong.

In 2014, I read an article written by a black woman named Sierra Mannie titled “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Female Black Culture.” In the article, Mannie tells white gay men to stop pretending to be black women because they do not get to claim blackness or womanhood.

I was completely blown away by this article and perspective. I had always considered myself an ally to black women. Every idiotic moment of me pretending to be a black woman painfully flowed through my memory. I felt like the biggest fucking asshole in the entire world. When you think about what black people have endured in their history, and what women have endured in their history, and then combine those identifiers to paint a story of intersectionality and adversity. And here I am, this idiotic twat committing these microaggressions against black women while reveling in my privilege as a white man.

Check out this video to learn more about microaggressions:

I was so embarrassed. I even remember getting drunk with some straight friends one night and pretending to be a “sassy black women.” I was there with a friend, who is black. He played along with my “performance”, but as a person who knows what it’s like to receive microaggressions myself, I sadly didn’t even think of how he perceived me. He probably didn’t say anything because he was used to it from other friends, and society.

I will never in my life know what it’s like to be a black woman, and here I was, acting like I was an ally while making caricatures of real life people with real life histories.

My goal is always to be honest, so what I am about to say is the truth: I 100% agree with the author of that article. In our attempt to connect, gay men have stolen the culture of black women. I am not actually sure why we think this is okay. Why do we pretend to be black women? We seem to think we can get away with it because we are gay.

This is evident in a response article that was written by Steve Friess called “Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away”. For me, Friess’ privilege and lack of understanding was very loud here.

There are actual allies for every group and I do not want to minimize that. I also think between black women and gay men, we do have a messy friendship.  It drives me fucking crazy now when I see how gay men are toward black women. And that is just from my lens of experience. Other groups that I do not identify with also experience this. We have a ways to go to start correcting this behavior.

Personally, when I facilitate these diversity and inclusion classes, I always make sure to call out that even minorities can commit discrimination toward each other and I use the original article as an example. I have facilitated those classes with black women who always agree with me. Even my participants (both gay men and black women) agree. If we become aware of the things we are saying and doing, this will help us make that conscious effort to stop.

I have also spent the last several years educating myself on the experiences of others so that I am can speak to it when it is needed. Being an ally, especially when you are in a position of privilege and able to use that privilege, has an incredible impact. Sometimes the majority needs to hear it from someone like them to better grasp the message.

Here is how to become a better ally:

  1. Sit the fuck down and check your ego.
  2. Shut up. This is important for the next part.
  3. Listen. Listen to what’s happening to the people around you. Listen to understand, not to respond.
  4. Ask questions to learn more. Look up your questions on Google or ask a trusted friend. Self reflection is critical here.
  5. Get involved in spreading awareness about a group’s cause.

These things have helped me become an ally to people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and the differently-abled community. I have questioned my own unconscious biases and spent time understanding myself and learning to ask questions. Sitting the fuck down and checking my ego went a long way for me. You can do these things too.

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