By Guest Contributor Ellen Oh
When I was a little girl, I was already very aware of what racism was. It felt like the cigarette burn to my flesh by the high school girl who called me a dirty chink. I was eight years old.
Racism has been seared into my psyche, like the shame that filled me when a white boy spat on me as he screamed “Go back to where you belong!” It sounded like the laughter of the crowd of middle school kids, both Black and White, that surrounded me and called me chink and gook. It looked like the jeers and smirks on the faces that pressed close, like nightmare images I couldn’t escape. I was 10 years old.
It was the fear I felt as I held my little sister’s hand tightly as we ran away from a group of Puerto Rican girls who pelted us with rocks and told us that slanty-eyed chinks don’t belong in their neighborhood. I was 11 years old.
It was the pain of my hair being torn out of my head by the middle aged Russian woman who spoke no English but knew every dirty, filthy word that she could use with “ching chong,”when I confronted her for stealing from my parents store. I was 15.
It was having a kind looking white grandmother scream at me to go back to my own country because she didn’t want my kind ruining the USA. I was 22.
It was having the managing partner of my law firm ask me if I had any relatives on the Golden Venture, the smuggler ship that ran aground in NYC with over 200 illegal Chinese immigrants. I was 24 and not Chinese.
By Andrea Plaid
To paraphrase bell hooks, like feminism, allyship is something you do, not who you are. And Racializens gave a lot of love to Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan, who wrote one of the smartest come-get-your-people responses to “Accidental Racist” (and, btw, wrote a great post on allyship itself):
It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to put on a shirt with a Confederate flag. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say he’s “got a lot to learn BUT.” It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to whine about “walkin’ on eggshells” and “fightin’ over yesterday,” as if racism is a thing of the past and not something active and present in the here and now. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say “we’re still paying for mistakes / that a bunch of folks made long before we came,” as if White Southerners’ lingering discomfort with slave history is the same fucking thing as the structural effects of slavery that inform the lives of Black USians’ to this very day. It isn’t a fucking accident to compare the Confederate flag to a do-rag or saggy drawers. All of this is thoughtfully conceived and deliberate bullshit.
Marginalized people don’t owe privileged people non-judgment and tolerance and indulgence of their gross redefinition of symbols of oppression in exchange for basic decency. The inherent power imbalance between privilege and marginalization makes the entire idea of an “equal exchange” of good will reprehensibly absurd.
If White people want Black people to trust us, then we should make ourselves fucking trustworthy. That means releasing our stranglehold on a lot of symbols and images and words and practices with racist origins, even if we like them a lot—boo fucking hoo!—instead of trying to argue selective context. Especially when there are always plenty of White folks who still value the embedded racism in those things. Brad Paisley, you are literally expecting Black people to be able to read White people’s minds and magically discern whether this one White guy is wearing a Confederate flag just because he has Southern Pride, ahem, or because he hates the fuck outta Black people.
That wildly unreasonable expectation is no accident, either.
By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from What Tami Said
I’ve got little love for anyone who spends time cackling with Joan Rivers at other women’s looks, but Kelly Osbourne’s recent comments are putrid and nasty even for a Rivers acolyte.
by Guest Contributor Dumi Lewis, originally published at Uptown Notes
I am an African-American man. I am a heterosexual man. I am a middle-class man. These three statements are the basis for my social justice work and advocacy, but each carries its own hazard for working on social justice. While many will assume my position as a Black man in America makes me sensitive to “minority statuses”, in reality, over the past 10 years I’ve learned nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in many ways, my status as Black man in America has the potential to undercut my work of engaging the pursuit of equality of opportunity, equality of outcome and the right to self-determination for all people. I am both privileged and disadvantaged. I have identities that I celebrate, identities I conceal, and all these decisions matter for my view on the world and what I choose to fight for and against.
I didn’t really begin to grapple with my privilege as a Black man until I was a student in Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s class on Black Feminism at Spelman College. I can remember rebutting each point she made about the Million Man March (MMM) as an extension of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and an attempt to further embed misogyny. Besides being a slew of words I didn’t fully understand, I could not understand why she fixated on all the “negatives” of the March. In the class, she essentially argued the MMM because of the patriarchy, etc. she could not support it and thus thought it held little value. By the time I landed in her class I was a senior at Morehouse and certainly had come to believe the MMM was one of the most transformative events I’d ever personally experienced and I refused to have the event mischaracterized.
I paraphrase, but I told her, “Yes, it does ask men to come back into the family, but it doesn’t always mean that have to be at the head. I know some talked about being at the head of the household, but not everyone believed that. We didn’t invite sisters because it was our time as Black men to redefine our commitment to the Black family and Black community.” I wanted to her to see the value of the event beyond her points. She let me finish and sagely replied, “It must be a nice privilege to tell someone to overlook the oppressive elements of a program, because it was helpful to you.” My face fell, my mouth shut, and I sat sheepishly quiet. My head spun between realization, frustration, and confusion. For the next few classes, I sat quietly and tried to figure out how I had not “seen it coming.” I realized that the lesson I had learned on the athletic field so many times applied to social justice work, “sometimes you got to get the wind knocked out of you to bring you back to earth.”Guy-Sheftall had pointed out what I’d seen done some many times but by those who came from outside of a community to do social justice work in my community. Someone(s) coming from the outside, declaring themselves an ally and expert and overlooking the view of those who were subject to the oppression in favor of their own perspective. Continue reading
By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said
[In the following post about allies, I am confining my discussion to anti-racism and feminism because those are the movements with which I am most familiar. I hope, though, that these ideas have broader application.]
Allies are important to any equality movement. It does not help people of color if we are the only ones who understand racism and how it still exists in society. It does not help women if we are the only ones that believe we deserve equal treatment. This is especially true considering the ways that women and people of color have been kept from places of power. The battles are ours to fight, and we can win them, but we need allies.
What does it mean to be allied? The dictionary definition is to be joined in a group to advance common interests or causes. And what does this joining require? I think mutual respect, shared activism and adherence to mutual goals and objectives. Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. And this isn’t easy. I have witnessed too many battles between members of marginalized groups and their professed allies to think otherwise. The disagreements are often raw, emotional and ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes, I think we expect too much of our allies. Sometimes the privileged are too confident in their roles as allies and too slow to examine their own biases. As enlightened about race or gender a person may be, we are all products of a racist and sexist society. To expect any person, no matter how good-intentioned, to never reveal a racial or gender bias is to invite disappointment. If members of marginalized groups want to work with allies, we have to know that they will fail us sometimes. Our allies have to know that they will fail.
And what do we do when this happens–when allies fail? How can we address mistakes, while preserving relationships and maintaining the power that comes through alliances with people outside of our group? How do I think an ally should respond when their bias or privilege is called out? How do I think marginalized groups should handle the mistakes allies make?
This is the first of two posts on maintaining alliances in the face of failure. Today, I will tackle the responsibilities of anti-racist and feminist allies. What should an ally do when he or she has made an unwitting show of prejudice or privilege?