One of the things that was discussed on twitter during the CLPP conference was the concept of allyship. The person I was tweeting with said, specifically in the context of racial justice, "I feel like "ally" came about because people aren't content to just work for something they aren't identified with; they need a title." -@Sp0ka
We had an interesting discussion about this via twitter & the thought has popped into my mind quite a few times since then as I have been working through exactly how I feel.
On one hand the concept of having "allies" to various movememnts is great because it empowers people to get involved where they may not have otherwise. On the other hand ally can be limiting because it is a clear divide between a person and a movement.
Personally I use the term ally selectively. Within queer & feminist communities I am not an ally, I just am because both of these groups already encompass my identity. Within anti-racist groups, however, I often feel the need to claim the title of "ally" to make it clear that I am not interested in co-opting anyone's struggle or experience - I just want to help dismantle the system that gives me privilege others don't have. However, I often wonder if designating myself as an ally instead of say, an anti racist activist full stop, is problematic because it still creates a divide between me and others in the movement. It seems all too easy for that divide to turn into a disconnect - one that leads to the paternalistic sort of attitudes ("Why can't you just fight your oppression my way...") & expectation for praise ("I don't have to be here but I am, how awesome am I?") that allyship can sometimes generate.
For help solidifying my own feelings (do I want to strike the term "ally" from my self concept forever?) I turned to our Men's Outreach Coordinator, Travis, who has been identifying as a feminist (not a Pro-Feminist AKA Ally) since he was a teenager:
"I identify as a feminist rather than as a pro-feminist because I understand that the struggles that are fought against within feminism affect me too. If I just identified as pro-feminist, I would be sending the message that these issues were not tied to my own privilege and oppressions - I'd be supporting people fighting against oppression without acknowledging my own personal stakes in liberation. By doing that, I believe I would be doing myself and men everywhere a disservice by turning a blind eye to how men are affected by oppression and privilege and shying away from an identity that seeks to eliminate those problems. I can understand that some men may not feel comfortable identifying as feminist due to their own misconceptions of what feminism is or the idea that their privilege would negatively impact the movement, but it comes down to the fact that as long as we as men are part of the same system that perpetuates oppression towards women, towards people of color, towards queer people, towards ANY marginalized or oppressed group we have the same stake in ending the system as anyone else. Yes, men have to check their privilege and do some personal education in order to better recognize how they fit into feminism, but there is generally no reason why men should not identify as feminists. We face different struggles at times, but it is the same fight."I think that this concept can be applied to almost everything. We could all benefit from living in a world where racism is truly a thing of the past. Same with discrimination on the basis of ability, or sexuality, or gender identity, or class status... I'm not an ally to these movements because, privilege and all, I have an active stake in their success.
What do you think?