SAJU: Allies need awareness of identity, privilege

Opinions Column: Pride, Not Prejudice

Being an ally is a good thing, but only when it is done with the right intentions. Wearing the term "ally" on your sleeve does not inherently give you the right to call attention to your own support instead of the actual issues at hand. 

My piece this week is inspired by the work of Mia McKenzie, who in her writing, distinguishes between real solidarity and what she calls “ally theater.” According to McKenzie, people who use their support of a movement to show their so-called good character are cookie-seeking “allies.” These individuals care about themselves, not the movement. They do not understand that real solidarity is not worn like a nametag. An ally can not be a title that someone gives themselves. Instead, this title must be given by those who are unable to retreat into their privileged identities. An ally does not have anything to lose except for the prestige that comes with being an ally, said Mychal Denzel Smith.

In the planning of the Women’s March, which took place in Washington, D.C. after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, the organizers “made a deliberate decision to highlight the plight of minority and undocumented immigrant women and provoke uncomfortable discussions about race,” according to The New York Times. Numerous white women voiced their disagreement with this decision and felt that they were not welcome as a result of it. But, this discourse was by design. The organizers wanted to spark a conversation about what the message of the march should acknowledge. Anne Valk, author of the book "Radical Sisters," said that in the short term, if trying to amass a greater amount of marchers for this specific march, then bringing up discussions of race would not be beneficial. But, if the long-term goal is to use the “march as a catalyst for progressive social and political change, then (it) has to include thinking about race and class privilege," she said. 

This branch of feminism known as intersectionality takes into consideration that people have overlapping identities and experiences that may lead them to face more complex forms of prejudice. It is “a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages,” according to YW Boston. Understanding that one individual may be facing different kinds of prejudice is important and, before raising our voices, we must first make sure everyone feels like they have the same opportunity to be heard. 

In the 1913 Women's Suffrage Parade, organizers asked Black women to march at the back of the parade. We cannot forget this. Even though some people are uncomfortable with discussions of intersectionality, it is vital to remember that these uncomfortable moments need to occur in order for the entire movement to move forward. 

Furthermore, in a general sense, different communities have different needs and minority women care about different issues: “Black women who have worked their whole lives as maids might care more about the minimum wage or police brutality than about seeing a woman in the White House. Undocumented immigrant women might care about abortion rights, they said, but not nearly as much as they worry about being deported," according to The New York Times. When these minority groups are not represented in the feminist movement, those who are fighting for a better future are silenced in a different way. 

In order to build a solid foundation for future social movements for everyone, people should embrace this idea of intersectionality. But in order to do so — in order to really be an ally — individuals must first acknowledge their privilege. Understanding that you have an unfair advantage over someone else is not enough. Making conscious actions as a result of this realization is an effect that would actually benefit those who are underrepresented. Actively train your mind to ask, “is what I am about to say or do in any way beneficial to the person I am about to say or do it to? If so, how," according to Black Girl Dangerous.

This way, when you choose to stand in solidarity with another person, you know that the ground under your feet is not built on false pretenses and unchecked privilege. So before you stand up, stand back — make sure you are raising your voice with the right intentions. 

Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student planning on majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Mondays.


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