Calling Yourself An "Ally" Is Not Enough

Calling Yourself An "Ally" Is Not Enough

Stop with the empty words, and get active and educated.
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Don't consider yourself an ally. You really shouldn't.

Why? It's an empty word, that describes what many see as a static state. Allyship, as I'll elaborate on in this article, should not be considered an identity or even a state of being. “To ally” means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “to give [your] support to another group or country”. It's a verb. Thus, when you participate in action on behalf of a marginalized group of which you are not a part, you are allying with that group. But much like one’s identity is not defined as a “shopper” because they once stepped inside Walmart, so too is one not considered an ally after performing a single good deed.

Too often, those with one or more privileges become allies– or at least, say they are– as a way of gaining social capital in a society that tends to laud pointless displays of ostensible solidarity that are ultimately devoid of meaning. Why wear a safety pin (which has become the ultimate in performative allyship) when you can take action against racist violence? Why simply wear a safety pin when you can educate bigots, so people of color don’t have to? The relationship of an ally to a marginalized group should not involve the ally getting credit for work they should be doing anyway, while those actually suffering oppression go without recognition.

A closely-linked trend in allyship is one in which the ally feels guilt and shame for their relative privilege, and seeks out an oppressed person to absolve them of it. Not only is this performative guilt counterproductive to the cause that an ally is supposed to be helping with, but it drains their marginalized counterpart of energy, forcing them to prioritize the guilt of the ally over their own wellbeing. An integral part of allying (the verb) with marginalized people is taking the burden of education on oneself. It takes time, and work, and the process of self-education and simultaneous unlearning of internalized oppression will never be fully complete. So-called “allies” need to stop navel-gazing and waxing eloquent about their own ignorance, and start listening to what marginalized people have to say. They need to stop performing allyship to make themselves feel better, and start acting in opposition to oppression because it’s the right thing to do.

For a long time, I wondered why these bizarre and unhelpful behaviors seemed to be endemic to allies as a whole. Then, I listened to the March 8th episode of NPR’s Code Switch podcast on the fraught territory of allies and safety pins, which inspired this article. A contributor on the podcast noted that a necessary factor that locates one as an “ally” is the ally’s privilege. White people are the only ones who can call themselves “allies” to people of color, straight people are the ones who function as “allies” to gay people. Allyship is a barrier between the oppressed and the oppressor.

So, by defining oneself as an ally to a certain marginalized group, a privileged person can simultaneously appear to be fighting against oppression, while benefitting from that very system. If oppression did not exist, there would be no more “allies”. They would not be needed. And that, I think, would make a lot of privileged “allies” very upset, indeed.

By all means, ally yourself with marginalized groups and fight on their/our behalf. But there is no need to identify yourself as an “ally” for the sake of boosting your own social capital. Educate yourself and others, amplify the voices of our most marginalized, and take action when your social position enables you to. No one is always, invariably an ally; that is an action you must take again and again. Remember, what we should be fighting for is a world in which privilege no longer gives some voices more strength and credibility than others; in which socially constructed hierarchies no longer dominate and ruin so many lives.

No one needs people to call themselves “allies” and call it a day. We need people who will fight the good fight because it is the right thing to do.


So, what should you do? First: get educated! Here are a few places to go:

Race / Racism / White Privilege

Very Basic (But Accurate) Trans Info

Intersex Issues

A (now-inactive but still available) blog written by a black woman on many intersecting oppressions / issues, featuring personal essays, critical academic work, and media analysis. An invaluable resource!

I have also written at length about queer/trans issues, disability / mental illness, and socioeconomic / racial inequality.

This is a very basic and non-exhaustive starting point for self-education about several (of many) issues. To further learn and grow, I recommend you take a college-level course on these issues, or at least check out a syllabus for such a course to find new reading material.

Cover Image Credit: Jon Yoon

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8 Struggles Of Being 21 And Looking 12

The struggle is real, my friends.
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“You'll appreciate it when you're older." Do you know how many times my mom has told me this? Too many to count. Every time I complain about looking young that is the response I get. I know she's right, I will love looking young when I'm in my 40s. However, looking young is a real struggle in your 20s. Here's what we have to deal with:

1. Everyone thinks your younger sister or brother is the older one.

True story: someone actually thought my younger sister was my mom once. I've really gotten used to this but it still sucks.

2. You ALWAYS get carded.

Every. Single. Time. Since I know I look young, I never even bothered with a fake ID my first couple of years of college because I knew it would never work. If I'm being completely honest, I was nervous when I turned 21 that the bartender would think my real driver's license was a fake.

3. People look at your driver's license for an awkward amount of time.

So no one has actually thought my real driver's license is fake but that doesn't stop them from doing a double take and giving me *that look.* The look that says, “Wow, you don't look that old." And sometimes people will just flat out say that. The best part is this doesn't just happen when you're purchasing alcohol. This has happened to me at the movie theater.

SEE ALSO: 10 Things People Who Look 12 Hate Hearing

4. People will give you *that look* when they see you drinking alcohol.

You just want to turn around and scream “I'M 21, IT'S LEGAL. STOP JUDGING ME."

5. People are shocked to find out you're in college.

If I had a dollar for every time someone had a shocked expression on their face after I told them I'm a junior in college I could pay off all of my student loan debt. It's funny because when random people ask me how school is going, I pretty much assume they think I'm in high school and the shocked look on their face when I start to talk about my college classes confirms I'm right.

6. For some reason wearing your hair in a ponytail makes you look younger.

I don't understand this one but it's true. Especially if I don't have any makeup on I could honestly pass for a child.

7. Meeting an actual 12-year-old who looks older than you.

We all know one. That random 12-year-old who looks extremely mature for her age and you get angry because life isn't fair.

8. Being handed a kids' menu.

This is my personal favorite. It happens more often than it should. The best part of this is it's your turn to give someone a look. The look that says, "You've got to be kidding me".

Looking young is a real struggle and I don't think everyone realizes it. However, with all the struggles that come with looking young, we still take advantage of it. Have you ever gone to a museum or event where if you're under a certain age you get in for a discounted price? Yeah? Well, that's when I bet you wish you were us. And kids' meals are way cheaper than regular meals so there have definitely been a couple times when I've kept that kids' menu.

So, all in all, it's not the worst thing in the world but it's definitely a struggle.

Cover Image Credit: Jenna Collins

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The 2020 Race Is Feeling The Bern

Everything you need to know about Bernie Sanders entering the presidential race.

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This morning, February 19, 2019, Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders announced he is running for president once again.

Unlike his run in 2016, though, Sanders now joins a crowded field of progressive candidates, one of which is Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

In Sanders's own words, this campaign is "about taking on the powerful special interests that dominate our economic and political life". Sanders went on to say that this is a "pivotal and dangerous moment in American history," and "We are running against a President who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction".

In his interview with CBS, Sanders explained that it is "absolutely imperative that Donald Trump be defeated", and described candidates whom he is running alongside as his "friends".

Regarding policy issues, his focus remains the same as in previous years, planning to focus largely on women's reproductive rights, lower prices for prescription drugs, and criminal justice reform.

Sanders is also widely recognized because of his goal of universal healthcare. His Medicare-for-all bill that was drafted in 2017 outlines the establishment of a "national health insurance program to provide comprehensive protection against the costs of health-care and health-related services". According to estimates, however, such a plan would increase federal spending by $2.5 trillion a year.

When it comes to education, Sanders plans to make preschool for all 4-year-olds free, aiming to fund this plan through tax increases on the wealthy as well as Wall Street transactions.

More widely acknowledged is his "College For All Act", which would provide $47 billion a year to states in order to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities. Additionally, the act would cut student loan interest rates nearly in half for undergrads.

In terms of social issues, Sanders is pro-choice when it comes to abortion rights and opposes policies which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, such as Trump's push to ban transgender people from the military.

The New York Times discusses the idea that the political field of the 2020 run might leave Sanders a "victim of his own success", in that the multitude of Democratic candidates are embracing policies which Sanders championed in the last race.

"Ironically, Bernie's agenda for working families will be the Democratic Party's message in 2020, but he may not be the one leading the parade," said talk show host Bill Press.

Moreover, victories by women, minorities, and first-time candidates in the 2018 midterm elections suggest that "fresh energy" is preferred by Democrats, which potentially poses a challenge for Sanders.

Conversely, though, Sanders is also starting off with certain advantages, such as a "massive lead among low-dollar donors that is roughly equivalent to the donor base of all the other Democratic hopefuls combined".

Donald Trump responded to Sanders's announcement by saying, "First of all I think he missed his time, but... I like Bernie. He sort of would agree on trade... the problem is he doesn't know what to do about it. But I wish Bernie well."

By and large, Sanders is another strong candidate, and it will be interesting to see if he can generate the same energy and support now that he did in 2016.

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