Being an Ally Between a Rock and a Hard Place
An article by Heretic host Sam Killermann discussing double-edged backlash to allyship
A tenet of the social justice dogma that allows us to undermine any argument against us.
What it looks like: someone says they aren’t motivated by an -ism (e.g., genderism, racism, ableism), or that they don’t hold an oppressive viewpoint, but are then “corrected” and informed of their “true” motives/beliefs.
Where it’s coming from: the ideas that (1) a lot of people don’t recognize the ways they enact oppression (e.g., via microagressions), (2) that oppression is often invisible to dominant group members, (3) that a lot of people dog-whistle true beliefs that they can’t say directly, and/or (4) that they are acting on unconscious bias.
Why it’s getting in the way: it’s invalidating and re-creating oppressive dynamics to tell someone what they think. It’s often based on an assumption of a person’s identities and how those are shaping their actions/beliefs (i.e., stereotyping). And ultimately, we can’t possibly know what someone’s “true” motive is (even if they don’t know it either), so it’s starting a fire with no hope of putting it out.
What we might do instead: if someone says their intention isn’t oppressive, and we think what they said or did is, point out that gap. Instead of trying to prove to them we know what’s in their head or heart, focus on the external: what they’ve said or done. Do so in the spirit of helping them connect their espoused intentions with their actions, not in punishing them for intentions we’ve ascribed to them.
A tenet of the social justice dogma that is used to exclude people from the movement, or from being seen as deserving of compassion.
What it looks like: if somebody doesn’t toe every line of social justice dogma perfectly, and land on the “correct” side of every intersectional issue, they’re the enemy. Just one point of disagreement is enough to toss someone out completely.
Where it’s coming from: the idea that all oppressions are connected, so if someone has one stance that’s harmful, it’s harming all groups. Also, a perception of a lack of sincerity or commitment to social justice.
Why it’s getting in the way: it operates from a false “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” dichotomy, by (1) imagining an “us” that they’re not part of, and (2) exaggerating their potential negative impact while ignoring the potential positive. Worse, in turning away people who support social justice causes because they don’t support every social justice cause, we are often galvanizing them against social justice as a whole.
What we might do instead: appreciate diversity of viewpoint in the same ways that we appreciate diversity of identities, backgrounds, and experiences. If we have people around who don’t 100% agree with us, we can use that viewpoint to inform our messaging, organizing, or education.
This project is part of hues, a global justice collective