Allies, Privileges and Pats On The Back

As a womanist/feminist I often advocate from an ally position on what I deem bodies that matter.  I do this because ultimately I believe in justice and equality.  It sickens me daily to see the way the cult of I (read: capitalism), patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ageism and abelism combine to construct people as less than in this world.  These social constructions have real effects that often result in violence, and death for those bodies that are targeted.   It is my hope that by daily writing about the “isms” and how they interact, that awareness can be raised.

Doing the work that I do is part of what I deem my human responsibility.  If the woman across town from me does not have enough food to eat, it is my business. If an infant girl is being circumcised in Egypt, that is my business.  If a child in France is banned from wearing a Burka to school, that is my business. Each one of these incidents though happening to an individual is a direct result of the ways in which we have chosen to privilege certain bodies and certain behaviours.   These occurrences reflect the degree to which “isms” are a systemic cancer to humanity.

I am not alone in working towards ending the power that  “isms” have to effect the lives others.  Daily millions of people across the globe work to create change.  We do this because we feel equally convicted in the belief that the cause of justice is not only worth while, but necessary to creating a better world.  As allies we seek to form alliances for the greater good and unpack our own unearned privileges.

Ally work is often difficult work because it forces us to be cognizant of the way in which we benefit from the very same “isms” that we are fighting to destroy. It also makes us second hand victims of those that seek to maintain the current power structure.  This can lead some to feel that have earned the right to a pat on the back simply because they have become personally aware of the potential power that they have the ability to wield in certain circumstances.

There is the tendency on the part of some to say, look how good I am. I can acknowledge that I have a class privilege, or a race privilege while the rest of the world remains wrapped in a myopic ignorance of what constitutes real value.  Yes it is good that as an ally that you have begun to unpack some of your unearned privileges and work for justice but this does not entitle you to a pat on the back.

Not exploiting or oppressing is what each person should actively be engaged in, and to think that abstaining from using your available power for personal gain is worthy of special recognition is once again an exercise of privilege.  A man that does the dishes does not deserve praise because he is a man doing the dishes. A person that eliminates racial slurs from their daily vocabulary does not deserve praise for recognizing that this language is hurtful. 

Honouring each person despite the “isms” attached to their body is part of human responsibility, and part of owning personal privilege.  To say that I deserve a reward or recognition is akin to belittling the people on whose behalf you labour. It keeps hierarchy in the relationship in that you are positioning yourself as good because you have lowered yourself to help and this undoes any progress that your personal labours have made.

To my fellow allies I say, continue to do the work that you do because it is important and necessary.  Take time in your labour to always own your privileges and realize that it is the work that is important and not you.


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