if so-called “allies” don’t want to show up when shi*t gets real, they should leave us tf alone

April 18, 2017

Last week, I addressed the situation in which author and blogger Luvvie Ajayi argued that when the feelings of white allies aren’t centered, they “shut up, and clam up, and stay home, because they’ve been told that the fight is not theirs.” I posited that if not promising a smooth journey is all it takes for an “ally” to choose to allow racism instead, we shouldn’t be depending on them in the first place.

I find myself making this point over and over again because, I think, we are not all on the same page about what we are asking when we use the terms “allies” or “solidarity.” I envision struggles on behalf of the marginalized to be like a metaphorical chasm. We currently stand on the side full of anti-Black violence, misogyny, queerantagonism, ableism, and other oppressive “isms.” On the other side of the gulf is a freer future. And while the “steps forward” allies provide might help with making the necessary leap less daunting, they cannot take the place of that leap. In fact, taking a step at the edge of a canyon will only lead you tumbling down to the bottom of the abyss.

It’s important to distinguish between the helpful steps and the necessary leaps in this work so as to ensure what is useful does not take priority over what is needed if ever those things come into conflict. More and more, I see angry marginalized people who are sincere in their desire to fight for liberation get shut down for the sake of the “allies” they upset. This will always get in the way of the necessary work of ensuring that Black lives matter, for instance, because those fighting for them to matter don’t even matter more than those crying white tears.

When we let the possibility of deterring “allies” become the focus of our work, we incentivize “allies” to rather appear to be good people instead of to be good people. Actually being a good person with structural power over someone else requires very real, difficult sacrifices. Ultimately, though there are plenty, there are no good excuses for not making these sacrifices. And while we can debate about how we best push people to make them, we should never reinforce the idea that their excuses for not doing so are in any way legitimate by attacking those who point out they are not.

As someone who is not a woman, all of my most important breakthroughs in unlearning my participation in patriarchal violence has come from Black women–cis and trans–not taking my bullshit. At many points, I was faced with the opportunity to “clam up and go home,” or stay present in my efforts to be the person I claimed to want to be. At many points, I did clam up and go home, having bought into the idea that “at least trying” was enough, and that I shouldn’t be accountable to anyone who doesn’t appreciate my labor.

But it’s not even trying when you turn fighting oppression into a capitalistic transaction. The reward should be that the world becomes a better place, not that people have a greater esteem for you. Because I wanted my labor on their behalf to be rewarding, my presence in spaces of Black women was not only unhelpful to work that did not center my labor, but detrimental to it. Putting energy into making sure allyship is safe and rewarding gets in the way of the very real, unsafe sacrifices that people who are not a part of marginalized communities have to make. This is why we need to truly reevaluate the types of people we allow into our most intimate spaces of liberation work, especially when we continue to prioritize conditional allies who benefit from the status quo and are therefore easily deterred over marginalized people who are consistently working against the violence they face and are justifiably angry.

We should not have to depend on those who have only learned to (or only have an interest in) taking steps to do the work necessary when it’s time for leaps. “Allies” who might stay home because their feelings are hurt undoubtedly may be able to offer help toward liberation struggles, but we need to acknowledge when and how they also get in the way as well–and just as much, if not more often. When shit gets real and “allies” aren’t ready, they very well need to “shut up, and clam up, and stay home,” rather than get in the way.

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.

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