Being an ally is so important to the progressive cause that I literally own two copies of the book Becoming An Ally by Anne Bishop, purchased for my social work courses. I had to move out of town, and I left my first copy at my parents’ place in ignorance of it being required reading for another course. Whoopsies! I know my prof would be absolutely thrilled that I have two copies that I can refer to whether I am at home or visiting my folks, but here I am writing a blog saying not to be an ally, so I guess it evens out. Sorry! I promise I have reasons!

Being an ally is being a member of the dominant group that is supportive of the oppressed groups. A huge part of that requires listening to and then trusting their feelings. However, what about the Christian who claims that “Happy Holidays” is oppressive? It’s not, but why not? The argument that the sheer number of Christians in North America makes oppression impossible is a false one; there are more women than men, but few people would argue that that delegitimizes their claims of discrimination. The reason “Happy Holidays” is not oppressive is because #AllHolidaysMatter is inclusive whereas #ChristianHolidaysMatter is not. It’s like greeting everyone, “Hey, Steve!” It’s really only relevant to people named Steve, and alienates those who are not. Saying the intent lies solely in the greeting ignores the fact that you’re still calling that person Steve. I’ve heard the argument that it is the expression of one’s own holiday, and that somehow makes it better, but that would be like me saying, “Hey, Dan!” to everyone. The problem is still there.

What if a man brings up that 92% of workplace fatalities are men? And then defends the wage gap by suggesting that men earn more money to accommodate their riskier employment? Seems reasonable that someone who risks death as a firefighter or a coal miner should receive appropriate compensation compared to a teacher or librarian who faces comparatively little risk of danger. However, this assertion ignores the disproportionately fewer women in the higher paid management positions and the fact that women make up 62% of minimum wage earners, which are equal if not greater contributors to the wage gap than dangerous employment. I don’t want to get into the social value of employment, but that also comes into play. The feelings of oppression, even when backed up with some degree of evidence, must always be scrutinized with all the available data. To assume that the traditionally oppressed groups are simply more trustworthy than men or Christians would be incoherent. Everyone should be listened to, of course, but for those who claim that feelings hold greater weight than facts, I refer you to this interview with Newt Gingrich.

Being an ally also requires that the ally identifies as, and comes to grips with, intrinsically being an oppressor. This is problematic. The first problem is that this makes change impossible. If white people are oppressors no matter what they do, then no matter what actions they take, they will never not be oppressors, no matter how many generations unfold. It’s entirely defeatist. How is the loop broken if no one can get off? I’m reminded of a meme I saw that said, “Brock Turner isn’t a swimmer who committed a rape, he is a rapist that can swim well.” Brock Turner is a human being who is a rapist and who can also swim well. The instant we define anybody as other than human, we’ve locked them into that role for life. If we apply that to a group of people, we only encourage reverse-discrimination without addressing any of the real problems. An individual may have privilege, but they are not their privilege nor are they the system which enables them to possess that privilege. To make such an assumption is to equally claim that someone who suffers oppression is nothing outside of their oppression.

A white person merrily greeting a non-white person in the street is not oppressive. A white person passing over a non-white person for an employment opportunity is. Making oppression about the group of people rather than the acts themselves is misleading, and distracts from the reality that racism is a systemic problem that anyone can either reinforce or resist at any given moment. Bill Cosby infamously gave a speech that was widely panned as being anti-black. It is not a question of identity or markers, but of acquiescence. It might be easier to acquiesce when one benefits from the privileges of oppression, certainly, but demarcating entire groups of people as villains does not help the cause. Even Martin Luther King said that there must not be a distrust of all white people; it only serves to alienate that group.

There is also the issue of allies keeping silent, unless specifically requested to speak. The theory is that the voices of the dominant group hijack the discourse when it comes to the experiences of the oppressed. One can never speak to the experiences of another, certainly, but I’ve already written an entire blog post about why the voices of the dominant are crucial to progress, so I won’t repeat it here. The gist is that if the dominant group is the one that needs to change, then more voices from the dominant group need to be heard because they are the ones most relatable to others from the dominant group.

Further problems with being an ally arise when one realizes that oppressed groups don’t unanimously agree on issues relating to their group. Bishop acknowledges this which makes the concept of an ally better in theory, but nonsensical in practice. This article raises the issue with prostitution, with the interviewee (a former sex worker) claiming that the voices of sex workers should not necessarily be listened to due to the necessity of outside critical thinking and the collection of relevant data, reasons I’ve already established in this blog. If one asserts themselves as an ally of prostitutes, and is either for or against the practice, they will find plenty of sex workers who support each choice. It no longer becomes a question of being an ally, but of projecting one’s own view into the realm of oppression. Bishop claims that, to be a successful ally, one cannot fall into the trap of thinking they know what’s best for an oppressed group. When discussing such a polarizing topic as prostitution, however, one will invariably choose an outlook that knows best for one group or the other. Either for or against it, one is patronizing those of the dissenting opinion by claiming to be an ally to *all* prostitutes. If one is only an ally to certain prostitutes, that might actually be worse. Better to drop the term altogether and focus on achieving a just outcome.

Think of the Latinos in America. It seems pretty straight forward to claim to be their ally against Donald Trump, the man who declared that illegal immigrants from Mexico are all rapists and murders, and yet there are Latinos who support him. To claim ally-ship to this group in this context would be disingenuous because it homogenizes a vastly multifaceted ethnicity into a singular extension of the preconceived perspective of that so-called ally. One can certainly claim that No One Is Illegal, and I would back them up to the best of my intellectual capabilities, but when projecting a viewpoint onto a people it can only ever be naive self-righteousness that makes that claim. If you want to change the world for the better, and I sincerely hope you do, pick issues, not identities.

The most important part of being an ally is likely to reside in personal relationships, but even there I believe it falls flat. If someone trusts you enough to unburden themselves of an oppression they are facing, listen and respect what they’re saying as a friend. To approach a situation like this as an ally would reduce them to their marker, and the interaction is devolved into a member of the dominant group conversing with a minority, rather than two human beings seeking kinship and refuge in one another.

Bishop does raise good points in her book, and I’m certainly not disparaging her overall message. However, being an “ally” seems more involved with properly identifying oneself as a member of the progressive movement rather than actually making progress as a movement. Don’t bother being an ally. Learn about the issues, listen to the perspectives, make your own conclusions, and affect change as best you can.

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