Friday, 23 December 2011

How to be an ally (and less of a jerk)

One of the biggest obstacles I've observed in people being able to act as effective allies in various causes is ego. Not necessarily ego in the sense of "I am all-powerful and all-knowing and all must bow before my awesomeocity" (although that certainly comes up), but ego in the sense of "I'm not wrong, I'm a great person. Why can't you pat me on the back for being so nice?"

To be an effective ally, one does not have to be perfect. One does not have to be subservient or cower in the face of dissent and prostrate themselves before the group they seek to support. But, you do have put your ego aside long enough to consider if you're being a jerk when someone calls you out.

Take, for example, Tom Matlack's recent flop. The original article, in and of itself, was somewhat myopic and offensive. But, allies are human and, as such, are fallible. What dragged this into ludicrous territory, imo, was the follow-up twitter battle and his complete inability to stop being defensive long enough to reflect on why people were reacting badly. The situation was so ludicrous that Hugo Schwyzer wound up resigning from The Good Men Project because of it.

Yes, ok Tom, you've done good things for women. Yes, ok Tom, you're a nice guy. I get it. You're also human. You wrote an article that pissed people off. You also made a move that is not in line with being an ally (playing WATM to the exclusion of women's issues, not accepting responsibility for the offensiveness of your comments, gaslighting feminist reactions, dismissing critcism that was made with the goal of helping you become a better ally). Step back for a minute, stop defending yourself, and think critically about all that's gone down. Shhh, shhh. Don't talk. Just think for a few minutes. Seriously, shush. Oh, ffs, I give up.

There are all sorts of ways to address hiccups. This article discusses two recent and notable examples in sports. A short and eloquent quote explains:
In sport, as in life, we understand that all penalties have the same purpose — to acknowledge that wrong was done and to modify future behaviour.
The Good Men Project article and resulting backlash was an excellent opportunity for Tom to have acknowledged that wrong was done and to modify his future behaviour in the interest of being a better ally. Way to fudge that up.

Allow me to expand on this idea of putting ego aside and give an example conversation and how it can go well and how it can go down the tubes.
Pat: "Did you read that article? Ugh, what a r****d."
Chris: "Yeah, it was pretty ridiculous, but I'd appreciate you not using ableist language."
Now, taking from Tom's example, let's put Pat's ego as a higher priority than being a self-aware ally.
Scenario 1:
Pat: "It's ok, I didn't mean it like that."
Chris: "I know how you meant it, but it's still an ableist term."
Pat: "Chill out. I've got family members who are mentally disabled and I volunteer at a community centre with people with disabilities."
Chris: "Yes, that's all very good and nice. I'd still appreciate you not using ableist language."
Pat: "What's your problem? Why the hell are you attacking me?"
Chris: "I'm not attacking you. I'm just pointing out the harmful language you're using."
Pat: "Pfft. Whatever. Way to freak out."
Chris: "O___o"
And let's see that played out when the big ol' ego doesn't get in the way of self-reflection.
Scenario 2:
Pat: "Sorry, that was ableist."
Chris: "No worries. Wanna get a coffee?"
Pat: "Yuppers."
Doesn't the second scenario make a lot more sense? Group hug.

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