#IntersectionalityIsForTwitter: How to Be a True Ally


Cross-posted with permission from Amplify Your Voice, a project of Advocates for Youth.

By now much of the advocacy community has heard of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen, and #F*ckCisPeople, started by @karnythia, @JamilahLemieux, and @Stuxnetsource, respectively. Intersectionality (the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities) has run rampant on Twitter, and I’ve been having a blast voicing my grievances, listening to other’s grievances, and fighting trolls with every bit of strength embedded in my keyboard. But not everyone has been having a great time with these hashtags, and I am here to help with a few tips:

One: Check your privilege at the door.

I don’t know what kind of privilege you’re packing, but it’s weighing you down. Set it down for a minute and consider the fact that you are not the only person out there being oppressed. In fact, you may indeed be unconsciously benefiting from an unjust system. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person—it just means that you live in a society that prizes certain groups over others and you were unlucky enough to be born into one. If you think you have it bad, just think of the people who weren’t born into the privileged group.

Two: Keep in mind that your movement can be flawed…

…without you being an evil master-overlord. Calling out the flaws in our movements is the only way we are going to get better. Movements are constantly demanding that society stop silencing the voices of their oppressed people. It is fair to say, then, that silencing people who are oppressed within those movements is the worst kind of hypocritical.

Three: Remember that unity does not equal silence.

The hashtags are only divisive if you don’t plan on addressing the grievances stated within them. If the movement intends to continue as it is and ignore the pleas stated for all of the Twitterverse to see, then yes it is divisive. But the only way we are ever going to be truly unified is if we listen to each other’s complaints and work to fix them.

Four: Be aware that anger is an emotion…

…and that oppressed peoples, as human beings, are entitled to emotions. You have no way and no right to monitor and/or control these emotions. These emotions are not irrational. These emotions are not silly. The best way to deal with these emotions is not to pretend they don’t exist and/or brush them off as unwarranted whining.

Five: Know that there is one condition to being an ally…

…and it isn’t that the oppressed groups appease you at every turn. It isn’t that they be wary of your feelings. It isn’t that they don’t air the movements’ dirty laundry. It isn’t that they do what is best for the movement even if the movement isn’t doing what’s best for them. The only true condition for someone to become an ally is for the ally to support the oppressed group because it is the right thing to do. You help them the best you can, not the way you think is best.

And if you are really having a problem with the hashtags, I present you this hypothetical situation:

Every day my friend and I walk down the street together. We are very close, but every once in a while my friend falls to the ground and scrapes her knee.

This friend and I have braved bullies together. We have faced down mean girls and jocks alike. We are more than friends, we are best friends. We love each other.

And every day she falls. Sometimes she trips. Most times someone pushes her to the ground as I watch. And sometimes I even push her myself.

I may apologize for this fact, I may not, but I never help her up. I never stop her from falling. Every day she falls to the ground, collecting more scars on her knee, and I do nothing.

Until one day she gets angry. Here she is walking down the street, falling down every day, and her best friend can’t even help her up. She yells at me about all the ways she has scraped her knee over the years. She yells at me about all the ways I haven’t helped her.

She rants. She vents. She cries.

Now, I could get mad back. I could be defensive. For the most part, I don’t push her down, and when the bullies pick on us at school, I am the one who is at her side.

I could tell her, “Well if that’s the way you feel we don’t have to be friends.”

Or I could pretend that day never happened. I could walk without her for a while until she finally breaks down, resentful, but needing some kind of ally to face the bigger bullies at school.

Or I could listen to her rant, to her vent, to her cry. I could take it all in, and when it’s over, I could begin to help her off the ground. I could become a better friend.

Our movements have all three of these choices: We could refuse to work with the oppressed people who voiced their grievances, we could ignore their grievances, or we could work to address them. While we make this decision, I would point out that no one joins a movement wanting to fight forever. We all are hoping that one day most of the bullies will see the wrong of their ways and treat us like human beings. We are all hoping that we can bring about real change in our society.

But if we can’t even change the prejudices within ourselves, how can we ever hope to change the inequalities around us?

#FoodForThought #GetItTogether #BeARealAlly

soirart / Tumblr

soirart / Tumblr

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  • Cade DeBois

    I will say this: these hashtags, or more importantly how people used them, havw made me seriously reconsider being a feminist and an ally at all. I grew up in a very diverse world and have long been passionate about advocating for the rights and inclusion of others, but here’s the thing: I’m a disabled person and I am very, VERY tired of the only people who can be bothered to advocate for us being us disabled people ourselves or, far worse, pathological “savior” types who think we’re all children, or pets, or “inspirations” or some other pitiful things who need to be patronized egregiously. Time and time again discussions about intersectionality focus on one or two noisy issues, namely race and gender, and it pushes anything else to the side. Objections about this, like those some of us disabled people made about those hashtags, usually are answered with a bunch of ‘splainin’ and excuses made by people who claim they are doing this for help promote intersectionality for everyone yet we disabled people know that’s code for “Go sit in the back and STFU”. When the people who are loving those hashtags and preaching to us about how to be a “good ally” are ready to actually acknowledge the existence of the marginalized people they’ve been ignoring, make room for us in their disussions and SHOW US RESPECT AS FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS, let me know. Until then, I’m taking a serious break for all of this ally business.

    • http://twitter.com/devans00 devans00

      Cade DeBois The only reason intersectionality is a topic on the table is because the impacted groups continue making noise and asserting their experiences to be taken seriously. Even though they’ve been told to “sit down and shut up!” umpteen times. Too bad for the allies made uncomfortable.

      The Black community has been fighting against the dominant culture at least since the end of World War II. A lot of that hard work paid off with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. But, there is still a long way to go.

      The LGBTQ community has been fighting for rights since at least the 1960s. I’d say it’s only since the 2000s that they’ve made a lot of measurable progress in marriage civil rights and general acceptance/tolerance by more than 1/2 the population.

      My point is, nothing comes easy for any group that isn’t considered the mainstream. The struggle lasts decades/lifetimes. Keep pushing through the set backs and disappointments to get what you want. Stopping before your goals are accomplished won’t help your cause in the long term.

  • anacoluthon

    I wasn’t aware that POC had so many allies that they needed to thin the herd. I have nothing but respect for POC and trans* people, but clearly my alliance is not needed. No ally to the civil rights movement is sitting around expecting a cookie for trying to be a decent human being, but I didn’t expect to get slammed either. Hashtags are not activism. tweets are not activism. I still support civil rights, but I’m no longer sticking my neck out.

  • Heather McCollam

    Love this article! Personally, tired of being called racist b/c I don’t agree that racism is the worst social problem we are facing today. It’s hard for me to ignore racism as one of my sons is black but I also have had decades of living- with black ppl and other diverse ppl in my life. But what I see today, as in currently, is a world with growing problems including child abuse & sexual slavery. I don’t feel heard nor respected when I talk about my experiences as a female collegiate athlete, custodial mother, ex-wife, and Guardian ad Litem. Experiences- not opinions. First-hand life experiences. Instead of being censored and ignored/dismissed, I would simply like to be acknowledged and heard. Friends of all colors tell me I’m not “normal” and I understand things white people usually don’t. I am working on my communication skills so I can communicate more effectively but I have found that if someone doesn’t want to hear truth and isn’t able to objectively listen- there isn’t much I can do but keep on speaking my truth.

  • anacoluthon

    I mean exactly what I said in my comment. I will no longer consider myself an ally. I’m not going to sign petitions or circulate them to support civil rights, I’m not going to rallies and marches, and i’m not going to speak up any longer (such as putting my job on the line by speaking up) when I hear racist comments. The twitter activists have made it pretty clear that they have plenty of allies who “get it” so my services are no longer needed. Silly me, being an intersectionalist for all those years and in reality we were fighting under different flags.