We all want to be “good” people. We want to be down with the cause. Yet most of us do nothing more than puff our chest out online and make minor changes to our lives. This blog was on my mind all day and then I read Pran Patel‘s blog so I knew it was time to race to my computer and clickety-clack away until some sort of written thought tornado was transferred from my brain to the screen in front of me. If you are reading this then you definitely should go check out his work. His blogs are about Leadership, Mental Health, Wellbeing and Decolonisation of the Curriculum.
In Pran’s blog, he uses the term “allyship”. According to his definition:
The whole point of allyship is to redress the balance, to use that proverbial unearned money to:
- To amplify the voices of the silenced (oppressed).
- To use my systemic privilege to support those without privilege.
- To give up the systemic privileges which we did not earn and use them to do the above.
I feel like I do this well. I amplify the voices of the silenced, use my privilege to support those with less, and attempt to share my systemic privileges which I did not earn (white male). To be honest this isn’t that hard. Once you realize the overrepresentation of white males in all education areas you know something has to change. Recognizing that being an ally is needed is the hard part. Allyship is the easy part.
The problem is being an ally is relatively easy and does not take a lot of energy nor exposure to harm in order to achieve. While it is a great first step it is the bare minimum that we (non-oppressed people) can and should be doing. It simply means we redirect focus elsewhere, take up less space, and amplify others. Is that enough though?
In the article titled Ally or co-conspirator?: What it means to act #InSolidarity posted on the Move to End Violence website we find out just what the problem is. They state, “… many activists now bristle at the word “ally” and how people have used it to claim that they are supportive of a cause or community without having to actually engage in meaningful action or build meaningful relationships.” This idea that all we have to do is retweet Black women or like a post about a social justice conference isn’t actually doing anything. It is simply a keystroke that does amplify but requires little to nothing from me.
Ernest Owens penned an article in Philly Mag that explicitly lays out why being an ally is not good enough.
1. Allyship arises from and perpetuates a self-deluding savior mentality.
2. Allyship sees conditions to supporting the marginalized where there are none.
3. Allyship validates the ally and not the marginalized.
4) Allyship treats advocacy as a transaction rather than a moral obligation.
5) Allyship and being in solidarity are two separate things — and it’s the latter you should strive for.
The idea of being a “coconspirator” goes beyond simply being an ally. In the Move to End Violence article, we can see clearly why being a coconspirator is so important.
“Co-conspiracy is about what we do in action, not just in language,” says Garza, “It is about moving through guilt and shame and recognizing that we did not create none of this stuff. And so what we are taking responsibility for is the power that we hold to transform our conditions.”
Coconspirators are doing something. Something that oppressed people tell them that is needed. They listen to those they are trying to serve and decenter themselves in the process. They put themselves in harm’s way. They give up something while gaining only the knowledge that they are working toward the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.
At the end of the day, I go home to my suburban house, in my white neighborhood to my family. I easily slide back into my power and privilege without even noticing that I have. I am working towards self-actualization which looks very much like being a coconspirator. Right now I am simply an ally.