No one ever taught us how to get along in a coalition that is so diverse that it includes people who could just as easily be political rivals as they are potential allies. The Big Tent concept is noble. However, without any instruction on how we could co-exist for mutual benefit, the fierce infighting that we’ve seen over the years was not only inevitable but also necessary.
I don’t purport to have all of the answers, so this is nothing close to a comprehensive list. But I think this is a decent starting point on how we can all become better allies to each other. If you feel like I missed anything, I know you’ll inform me in the comment section.
1. Never dismiss the experiences or the plight of your allies:
I never believed that cat-calling was a big deal. I thought that because I never saw it firsthand and was never guilty of it, women were simply exaggerating. As serendipity would have it, the same day yet another Progressive informed me that I was overly-dramatic about racism, I also witnessed how quickly a man on the subway went from being civilized to being a barbarian.
My mouth dropped in shock because, as much as I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, it finally dawned on me that I had been doing to women the very thing that I hated most about what some white progressives did to me: I’d been dismissive of everything women tried to tell us for years simply because it was something I had not personally observed.
Even if you’re not guilty of or never witnessed what an ally is telling you they have experienced, listen to them. More happens in the world than that for which your experiences could ever account. Dismissing someone else’s experiences is something that Conservatives do on a daily basis. It hurts so much more when it comes from would-be allies.
Unless you’ve struggled with the pain of being X, never presume to be able to tell X what it’s like being X in America. This is where the unspoken rule of Black Twitter is so valuable: Don’t lecture; listen. Listen so that you can learn and listen so that you can understand.
2. Acknowledge the agency of every ally:
We all have our own narratives, backstories, plots, twists, heroes and arch nemeses. Every ally has their story in which they are the complete focus and center of attention. Recognizing the agency of an ally means you are willing to not make their story about you, your fears, expectations, or even your advice.
When we come together, it does not and should not require that anyone’s narrative be pushed into the background. It merely requires the ability to listen the varying experiences are woven together by the common enemy that threatens us all.
When the narrative shifts to one that directly affects an ally, support them. You are the hero of your story but the side-kick of theirs.
Our egos must be flexible enough to be fierce on the pages of our personal narratives and set aside on the pages of our ally. And when we assemble to fight against the true enemy that conservatism has made itself, we can stand boldly as individuals and fight side-by-side as equals. Only then will the sum be greater than the parts.
3. Acknowledge your own privilege:
Everyone experiences privilege in some way. That privilege often crashes into the intersection of a would-be ally. If you cannot recognize your privilege then you are destined to hurt, offend, and betray the very people you call “ally.” Privilege doesn’t mean you have it easy in America or that you do not face your own adversity. Privilege simply means that there are some issues that you never had to consider.
For example: As a black, cisgender, heterosexual, Christian male, I have challenges but I also have a fair share of privilege. I never have to consider what its like to be gay in America. I never have to consider what it is like to be an atheist in a country so obsessed with a particular brand of Christianity. I never have to consider what it’s like to be a woman. As much as I get weary with systemic racism, I still recognize that I have privilege.
We all have privilege and we simply need to identify it and understand that our allies do not all have that luxury.
4. Fight for your ally, even if the fight doesn’t directly affect you:
If you are to be an ally, you must show up for the fight even when the fight is not about you. You would expect nothing less when the issue is your own. Understand that at different points and at different times an ally’s issue will come to the forefront of the national conversation. This doesn’t mean your story and your issue is no longer important or is being pushed to the background. It also does not mean that you will take the lead role in the battle.
See this as an opportunity to attack the central problem from a different perspective. For example: while racism is a pivotal issue for me, I understand that when the national dialogue is about LGBTQ rights, it is an opportunity for me to fight alongside that community to attack the same bigotry that is ultimately behind racism. Indeed, racism and homophobia grow from the same root: hatred. This hatred is merely expressed through different means and experienced by different people.
Once you realize that at its core, racism is sexism is classism is homophobia is trans-phobia is Islamophoba and xenophobia, you will understand that every fight is an opportunity to advance our individual causes.
5. Never attack an ally with the same tactics as enemies:
Can we really call ourselves allies if we say and do to our friends the very things our enemies do? Many of us have hardened ourselves against our enemies but are vulnerable to our friends. And so when a fellow progressive hurls insults, red-herrings, and straw-men at us that are equivalent to that of conservatives, we stand the risk of turning an ally into our fiercest enemy.
A wound from a friend cuts deeper than that of a rival. “This was the Most Unkindest Cut of All.”
If you find yourself using the same rhetoric and attack mechanisms as conservatives, then it seems to me that this is an issue for which you experience privilege and you are recoiling from the natural uneasiness that occurs when any privilege is confronted. And as much as you want to push back on it, don’t allow your inhibition and uneasiness to turn you into the same monster you would otherwise oppose.
6. When allies make mistakes, correct them; don’t destroy them:
It’s painful to admit when we’ve made a mistake. It is also very easy and gratifying to kick someone when they are down. The combination of these two realities will inevitably lead to allies denying when they’ve made mistakes and other allies going in for the kill when they’ve exposed that mistake.
You cannot win your battle on your own so destroying your allies isn’t the wisest move. Sure there are inner skirmishes that need to be fought and that means someone will lose a particular debate. But don’t go in for the kill. Don’t burn the bridge. And because you have the power to do so, I believe you have the responsibility to not.
But even more importantly from a pragmatic perspective: you need your ally to hear your critique so that they can actually change. Because it is so painful to admit when you’ve made a mistake, being lambasted for that mistake only makes you run away from the truth that would help you grow. We need our allies to hear us, but they can’t if they’re so busy covering their head to protect themselves from you kicking them while they are down.
Philosophically speaking, I’ve learned that it is best to extend the same amount of grace to someone who has done you wrong that you would want and would need extended to you when you’ve done wrong. No matter how fastidious I am, I know at some point I am going to mess up. So I hope that I have been gracious enough with allies that they will not come after me for blood when I fall.
Let’s move forward, together…
These are just a few points that I think will help us get beyond the bitter, but sometimes necessary, infighting that consumes us on a daily basis. This article isn’t comprehensive, because I don’t have all the answers. But together, we can find them. We need to find them. But until we can work out the complexities of our alliance, we will remain scattered at a time that the world needs us to be unified.
This video gives strong political opinions that favor a particular candidate.
Skip to 33:00 to watch “6 Rules for Better Progressive Allies”:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fyk4yWF0-60&w=560&h=315]
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