My Advice for “White Allies”

One of the many beautiful things about the left is that it has the ability to enlighten white people about the systematic oppression that our non-white friends, neighbours, colleagues and even family members face on a daily basis. Although we will never understand what people of colour go through we have the opportunity to be enlightened about white supremacy, and how through many forms it is harmful for not just them but us as well. The problem is many of us are faced with a crisis, we don’t know where we stand and how we should act in certain circles. Most of all we are out of place and are forced to adapt to unfamiliar settings, which can be both uncomfortable and testing based on how we react.

Personally, as a CIS heterosexual white male, I have never been a fan of the term “white ally”. It is just not something I identify with. I can’t wear it with pride as a patch on my spiritual biker cut. The term “white ally” is often surrounded by a set of unwritten requirements and expectations which can often over complicate a white activist’s thought process and in turn their sense of direction. More importantly it complicates how we define our sense of belonging within activist groups, and that ilk. The word “ally” implies a level of “distant friendliness and empathy”, although we as white people are not oppressed we seek to reach out and help those who are. This can be problematic as most “white allies” have no idea how to do this in a way which can actually benefit oppressed peoples of colour.

All too often amongst left wing groups you come across the overly eager white members, indiscriminate of age, who are almost bouncing in their seat to show how different they are to their ‘oppressive counterparts’. I’m sure some of you can think of a few large socialist organisations in which this is fatally rampant. The problem is many of these self professed “white allies” who have been allowed into spaces created by peoples of colour, unknowingly commit their most carnal of sins, talking over oppressed peoples and inadvertently dominating the narrative set by oppressed peoples during discussions. This is a total calamity in itself, and ruins numerous organisations. I have lost count of the events I have partaken in, or observed, where white members would talk for what seemed like hours about oppression they had never faced, and either knowingly or unknowingly, shut out the voices of minorities who had suffered oppression and as a result had perhaps more valuable contributions to the discussion. I can vividly remember the countless rolling eyes of non-white listeners when this took place. These listeners were probably glad at first to realise that a white person was taking interest in their cause, but were later regretful that they had been given an opportunity to shut out the voices of those that mattered most, the oppressed. In the spaces the oppressed otherwise feel most safe. The eagerness of the “White ally” to prove he/she is different to their “oppressive counterparts” can be intoxicating. The majority simply have no idea about how to properly direct their enthusiasm. It shows, it really does.

A contemporary example of my last paragraph in action before I advance. Russell Brand can support those at risk of losing their council flats, but he cannot speak for them as Russell Brand is not at risk of losing his council flat. He is a millionaire, he does not live in a council flat. Therefore he cannot speak as someone who lives in a council flat. By talking too much on their forum, he risks stifling the voices of those who are at risk and making it “The Russell Brand show featuring Eviction”. In simpler terms: Russell Brand cannot speak for the people at risk, as he is not at risk. He has to know when to step back.

The most powerful thing a “white ally” can do is step back. In order to do this the “White ally” must learn when and where they need to step back. The key role of the “White Ally” is to be of the best help he can to his oppressed fellows. When does a “white ally” have to step back? When they get too close. What this means is that when a “white ally” finds themselves going “deep cover” (to paraphrase Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg’s 1992 hit), they need to step back. Simply, when they find themselves regularly talking at length about issues which won’t affect them, with a false understanding, they need to step away as they risk stifling the voices of the oppressed as a result of their privilege. These issues often take the form of subjects such as: colourism, genocide, cultural appropriation, tackling religious extremism in foreign countries, racial discrimination, state violence and the legacy of famous non-white activist figures (most notably Martin Luther King). All too often “white allies” will take it upon themselves to write at length about people of interest within the struggle. Choosing to ignore that their role is not to determine the legacy of these people, which is what they’re doing whether they realise it or not. “White allies” must realise that the same applies to their musings on things such as discrimination and cultural appropriation, of which it is highly unlikely they will ever experience. You aren’t needed here, step back and apply your energy more constructively.

How does a “white ally” apply themselves once they have taken the often difficult step back? They research and they learn as much as possible. Once again “knowledge is power”. A “white ally” is useful once they can offer another outlook or understanding of a social justice issue. Which in turn adds another bullet in the arsenal of oppressed people fighting back against an oppressive system. That means that they develop an understanding first, only then do they offer their findings in the form of suggestion. Rather than be at risk of baseless critique derived from a place of scarce understanding. The job of the “White ally” is to assist, not provide for oppressed people. Oppressed peoples of colour have plenty to provide, their risk is being shut out by boisterous voices driven by weak understanding. For example, if a white person looks to set up an organisation fighting oppression they need to make sure that the oppressed people take the forefront. They are not the oppressed people and probably never will be. Assist, not provide. The final way a “white ally” can best assist oppressed peoples of colour is by seeking to spot nasty habits they have inadvertently internalised. You may not recognise them but people who you are attempting to help will. What you then do is take the logical next step, make your best efforts to remove them.

To put it simply, there are only 3 steps required of the White ally:
1) Learn to recognise systematic oppression
2) Do not support systematic oppression
3) Contribute intelligently

A final note, being a white ally does not mean that you have to take responsibility for the actions of all white people in the past and constantly disassociate yourself from white culture and the nasty features of white history. Unless your family directly benefitted from the slave trade or had the facility to end it but chose not to, you do not have to live as if you bare the burden. To quote the late great Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, “it’s not your fault”. You are not making things better for yourselves by refusing to see the beauty in your own culture as well as recognising that in others. Just because you find the Roman Empire and the Crusades interesting doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate the Fatamid Empire or the Ashanti Kingdom or vica versa, for example. Yes white people have done nasty shit, but you don’t bare the burden. History is far too deep and complex for it to be that simple. Another example that puts this into context is the Iraq war. Tony Blair and the New Labour cabinet of 1997-2001 bare the burden of the Iraq war, not the British public.

To conclude the greatest thing a white ally can do is; step back, breathe in, breathe out, put your ego aside and learn to find a way of being yourself and supporting the oppressed. In such a way which doesn’t compromise your being.

By Louis Earle @RemoveCapital

These views do not represent the views of all Rmovement members but individual members. 

Advertisements

How Men Can Support Feminist Spaces

Feminism last year picked up the pace through many celebrities endorsing the movement, and it has become an even more prominent topic in the public eye and easily becomes the centre of much heated debate. Feminism seems to send the modern man into instant defence mode, many feel its an attack on their identity and rights. More often than ever I hear the term misandry used but in the completely wrong context only to derail misogyny. Accounts like ‘@MenistTweet’ on twitter not only undermine all progress of feminism but paint feminism as the tool of oppression towards men. What most male allies do realise is the benefits of feminism, and its intersectional ability in the fight against Patriarchal masculinity which not only damages women but also men. By exploring how men can support the feminist space, we can see the value of feminism in all sections of society.

“I support equality but I do not support feminism” I have heard this comment far too often but what does it actually mean? Feminism has been besmirched so much that most people do not actually know what it means. Many imagine a group of militant, power hungry women who just want to be destructive to all men however this completely contrary to most feminists. The definition of feminism although varies is simply a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.(1) What is this oppression? Patriarchal Masculinity. Patriarchal Masculinity is set on the belief that men have the right to dominate and control women, children and some other men. Patriarchal Masculinity has promised that along with this “right” to control will come privileges and these privileges are status, power and sex. This oppression denies men of any emotions, it cuts of many emotional connections and destroys personalities. It manifests itself in violence, aggression or anger to anything viewed as inferior; this creates hyper masculinity.

Intersectionality is what is the most important. This has become very obvious to me of late due to the recent events in America of police shooting of black men Mike Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford. (2) However what has struck me the most is the amazing support from the black feminist movement and the black/poc LGBTQA community, and in contrast the slander produced by black men in opposition to these movements. Many of these women are at the forefront of protesting, aiding and raising awareness yet they are still getting abuse. Not only do black women face racial oppression, they experience the wrath of patriarchy due to their gender. This sexism is produced even in their homes, but why? Patriarchal masculinity, not only does it abuse women but it has also abused men. Black men in society are some of the most downtrodden individuals, this oppression is manifest in hyper masculine behaviour. It causes the will to dominate. If black men can not dominate in their jobs, their finances or careers where do they get to express this hypermasculinity? Only their homes. Black women face the brunt of this abuse, and its because they know the humiliation their husbands, brothers and cousins are being subjected to by imperialist capitalist white supremacist patriarchy.

Many black women are killed by the police like men however the slogan “all black lives matter” only seems to pertain to men. Women such as Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey and Shereese Francis names seem to slip under our radar this definitely needs to be changed. (2) This can also be applied to the transgender and Gay community, many men in this communities are ostracised and their deaths seem to have minimal impact and this is just one of the ways patriarchy demonstrates itself. As Tupac Shakur said “Time to heal our women, be real to our women, And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies, That will hate the ladies, that make the babies”. (3) With this sentiment it’s important that we encourage self-love and love for women.

So how do we as men aid the feminist movement? First of all we must not try to make it about self pity or “male guilt” both of these are counter productive. Actively going out and making our spaces feminist is useful, however, it is important to realise that activism isn’t defined by how many protests you attend, It’s consistently challenging and questioning your internalised ideas, that has been rooted since birth. Men, we can go to as many feminist conventions as we like but if you’re not taking part in changing your destructive views, your activism is useless. Alas, this will take more than a few weeks to do, be willing to take years, it will take time, but it must be done.

Men need to create communities where they can talk about their own experiences with hypermasculinity. Without these communities it partly buys in to the notion of traditional masculinity and hyper-individuality which is specifically harmful to men, even though it of course affects people of all genders. Talking about these experiences shows you are a feminist ally and willing to take part in conversations about your own masculinity that have choked you for years, and its clear you have learned how to give women their own spaces. (4)

Feminist men do not deserve a place in feminist women spaces. It is this idea of entitlement into spaces that is another trait of patriarchal male thinking. This does not mean that men can not attend feminist conventions or similar events mostly dominated by women, however it means that they can not forcibly be a part of the construct. Feminist spaces are for women to talk about their experiences without being overshadowed, being an ally is crucial and this can be done by:

  • Being polite
  • Listen; don’t speak over women and their experiences.
  • Don’t demand resources, for example: “I have never seen a woman being harassed on the street, give me an example this happens now”
  • Be uncomfortable, this is NOT about us as men.
  • Do better
  • LISTEN.

Its not for men to ask women what they need to do for the feminist cause, but rather to be asking themselves what they can do for this patriarchal society. This can be applied to oppressed groups such as the trans community, it’s imperative as cis heterosexual folks, we don’t demand a space to be included. This is not, out space, realise this. Malcolm X taught that white people should not look to being in black spaces, but rather create their own spaces where they are allies of the original cause and go and teach other white people including themselves to unlearn deep entrenched racism. (5) Similarly feminist men need to create and maintain whole new spaces for men and become allies of women’s feminism. (6)

I mentioned before that several men are active on the street shouting for feminism but are incapable of destroying their own behaviours towards women This is something as a man I am struggling up to date, gender slurs always have been my weakness. Although I would not call a woman a “whore” or a “slut” vocally for the way she is dressed or act subconsciously I make prejudgments about their sexual activeness and her personality. Turning off these deeply entrenched ideas includes socialising with like minded male feminists in similar circumstances, and repeatedly reminding yourself of the damaging effects of heteronormativity and patriarchal masculinity. In myself I see growth in a reduction of prejudgment of women from their image, and this is demonstrated when I feel disgust at other mens views towards women and my automatic assertion to change their views. Protesting about feminist equality and helping others unlearn their patriarchal ideas is important, but we as men must be careful that heteronormative behaviours such as gender slurs, sexual stereotypes and dominance is unlearnt by ourselves as without constant unlearning we can slip into transphobia, homophobia and hyper masculinity.

Emotional therapy for men is very important. We as men are told to cut emotions off as it can make you weak or more likely to cause issues. This is very sad and causes a lot of pent pain. After reading The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love I saw how much emotional disconnect affected me. (7)(8) I have never had a very close relationship with my father, but its always been civil one. One thing I always remembered was his struggle to show love and be an emotional being. As a child he was one thirteen and because of this is mother sent him to and live with his grandma as she could not handle all of them single handedly. Not only must this created hostility towards the maternal role but a cut off of emotional trust. He subscribed to traditional Ghanaian patriarchal views only to see his role as to provide money,work and provide discipline. This I believe trapped him in a catch 22, he became a slave to circumstances that made him the man he was, and distanced himself from his children.

I think bell hooks has it right, in The Will to Change: “Women and men alike in our culture spend very little time encouraging males to learn to love. Even the women who are pissed off at men, women most of whom are not and maybe never will be feminist, use their anger to avoid being truly committed to helping to create a world where males of all ages can know love. And there remains a small strain of feminist thinkers who feel strongly that they have given all they want to give to men; they are concerned solely with improving the collective welfare of women. Yet life has shown me that any time a single male dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries in order to love, the lives of women, men and children are fundamentally changed for the better.” (7)

The main thing to remember is oppression is oppression. (9) The oppressor is extremely divisive he will set up divisions between all those who are oppressed so that they cannot work together and be divisive towards each other; this means no goals are never accomplished only left in a cyclical cycle. A lot of Black male activists neglect this trait, they only seek to speak about politics (mostly racial) and completely neglect gender concerns, for example Marcus Garvey although he had amazing liberation ideas of black people he was also patriarchal and personally he failed as a leader as he did not recognise the wider issues of oppression. Through unity, all oppression will be understood and that’s how we move towards a whole upheaval of the system so set in concrete we are all strangled daily. “If someone is standing on their own beliefs and their own beliefs are anti-patriarchal and anti-sexist, they are not required to be anybody’s ally. They are on their front line in the same way that I’m on my front line.”

References:

(1)”Feminism – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary”. merriam-webster.com. Accessed 26/12/2014.

(2) Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014 – http://gawker.com/unarmed-people-of-color-killed-by-police-1999-2014-1666672349 Accessed 26/12/2014.

(3)Tupac Shakur. (1993). Keep Ya Head Up. Interscope

(4) Men Need Feminism – http://feministallies.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/men-in-feminist-spaces.html Accessed 26/12/2014.

(5) Jules Archer. (30 May 1996). They Had a Dream: Civil Rights Struggle from Frederick Douglass to Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King, Jr.and Malcolm X. Puffin Books

(6) Modleski, Tania (1991). Feminism without women: culture and criticism in a ‘postfeminist’ age. New York: Routledge. p. 188.

(7) Bell Hooks (1 Dec 2004).The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. Washington Square Press

(8) bell hooks & Melissa Harris-Perry: thoughts on the conversation http://sofiasamatar.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/bell-hooks-melissa-harris-perry.html Accessed 26/12/2014.

(9) Julie Bindel (18 January 2006). “Eradicate the oldest oppression”. The Guardian.

By Joshua Binfor @EdwardAshanti

These views do not represent the views of all Rmovement members but individual members.