Edit note: The use of lower-case is intentional and the writer’s preference.
nearly every marginalized person with the platform to do so has already said this, but in case anyone might have missed it: there is no reward for being a good ally, and there is no threshold of welcoming that the marginalized need to maintain for you to care about them.
put another way: if you truly care about equality and justice and so on, then you must also care about those things when the people in most need of things do not like you.
it will feel unfair, yes, and it will awaken in you feelings of resentment. that is to be expected – the system is rigged, and being an ally means placing yourself between the hard edge of the oppressed (that they have created to protect themselves) and the harder edge of the oppressor (which you would normally be on the kinder side of). it is your duty to sit with that unfairness, to feel within you that resentment, and to understand that it is the closest you can feel to what the marginalized are feeling. it is sometimes bitter work, but in that bitterness you can achieve the greatest possible empathy.
i don’t like to mix segments of my life (spoiler: i am an archetypal scorpio, and do not like to even admit to having segments of my life), but today i faced a difficult situation and even more difficult feelings: i was, essentially, told that i had been a bad ally. there are mitigating factors and details of the situation, of course, but at its heart, what i was facing was that simple and uncomfortable truth.
i wrestled with the desire to argue my innocence or at least my lack of responsibility – but that was not the issue.
i wrestled with my natural, defensive instinct to point out where they had misspoke, or misidentified me, or otherwise shift blame – but still, that was not the issue.
the issue was simply that, although i thought i was adequately understanding the needs of a group, members let me know that i was not.
so i apologized. for myself, for the team i was part of, and i asked what our mistakes were, and how we could improve things moving forward. it’s important, also, to remember that the marginalized never owe us an explanation of how their allies have failed them. it is a gift of unspeakable generosity to be told where we have done poorly; the marginalized have performed the labour of describing their existence a thousand times over, and owe no further repetitions to anyone.
i am not saying this to paradoxically brag about my humility, but to try to make a point about allyship that i have not seen made. it is often said that performative allyship is useless – if you are an ally only to be seen as an ally, you are not helping anyone or serving anything besides your own ego. but it is impossible to completely avoid the performative aspect, so long as you are striving only to be seen as a good ally. you have to accept that, at some point, you will be a bad ally; we cannot always step or speak perfectly, and no one springs forth from the aether as a fully-formed advocate.
you have to do the work when it is bitter, when it is hard, and most importantly, when no one will commend you for it. when no one might even see that you are doing it. the work that is silent. invisible.
the most important work an ally will ever, ever do, is the work that occurs deep within, that leaves their spirit shaken and spent, because that is the work that makes us our best selves.
NOTE: personally, i am still unpacking the biases and negative behaviours referenced in this post. it is not meant to serve as a defense against current or future criticism. the work is ongoing and, in truth, can never be fully finished. we can only hope to remind ourselves why we do it.
Myriad Works is a brown, mixed-race, Jewish, first-generation Canadian, disabled queer and genderqueer child of immigrants. They cover topics from this lens, offering a unique perspective at ocdelightful.tumblr.com.