Blogger/vlogger Kat Blaque (whom you should follow if you don’t already) made an interesting post a few days ago regarding some of the submissions she is given by white readers.
Before I get to that, though, I want to stress once more who my intended audience is. I’m not here to mansplain/whitesplain to people who already know all this. This is for folks who want to be good allies but don’t necessarily know how to go about it. I figure bad examples can be instructive, so I’ll talk about one here. It’s worth remembering that I am neither perfect nor an expert, myself. We’re all just doing the best we can, here.
With that out of the way, this is what Kat Blaque had to say:
The full quote, in case anything should happen to it later:
Dear white people who follow me: I appreciate that you are dragging your racist white friends and family members but please stop reporting to me and asking me to share screenshots of you dragging them. Stop asking for ally cookies. Just keep doing it without asking for recognition.
First of all, I had no idea anyone was doing this, although after taking a closer look at her blog it is apparently a routine occurrence for her followers (usually white ones) to try to sic her and her fans on someone over a transgression, regardless of its severity. To her credit, she actively discourages people from engaging in this kind of behavior and avoids doing so, herself. The most I have seen her do is argue with people who have come to her page to argue with her on various issues, and even there she tends to be more respectful than I would say is deserved.
But the fact that there are people out there calling out friends and relatives, then taking screenshots and hoping a popular blogger will post them in order to publicly humiliate the offenders is pretty repugnant. That is not to say that, for instance, racist posts should never go viral and should never have negative consequences attached to them–this can and does happen, and people lose their jobs and reputations over it. But that’s often a more organic and less orchestrated affair than people taking the time to call out another person, document it, then try to force it into viralhood using a popular Internet personality (such as Kat Blaque) as a mere conduit.
It’s offensive on a few levels. It suggests, for one, that someone like Kat Blaque is a pet, to be given “toys” and “treats” to enjoy, and is expected to appreciate the opportunity. More charitably, it is easy to view as simple approval-seeking, and it’s still wrong when that’s the case, as well. On top of that, I have rather mixed feelings about deliberate attempts to embarrass people over what they have said in private or semi-private venues. Without knowing, specifically, what sorts of posts she has been sent, I can’t say if that was the case for any of the submissions she’s referring to. There’s also the question of severity: there’s a difference between working to embarrass someone for displaying ignorance, vs. publicizing an individual’s abhorrent racist/sexist/etc. statements. I can’t say for sure what the right balance is, and I’m also not the type of person to have a lot of sympathy for those who lose their jobs over making hateful statements on the Internet, but how these things unfold and are accomplished is at least of some interest to me. If it is being done by supposed allies in order to gain the approval of the people they consider themselves allied with, that’s a no-no. That brings me to the main point here.
There is significant debate as to what makes a good or bad ally, although identifying the latter tends to be easier. There is the school of thought that no one can be a self-described ally. I can understand that position–taking on the mantle for yourself suggests a degree of self-interest that really shouldn’t be present if your intention is, after all, to lift up people facing injustice and oppression. Of course, it also makes discussing allies difficult since no one is allowed to say they are one. My position is therefore that, if you want to be a good ally, you don’t need to call yourself one–you may or may not be recognized for it, and you aren’t doing it for that reason, anyway, so just be one without worrying about the labels. Call people out because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’re trying to score points with your friends, not to indulge personal grudges. Do it when it’s unpopular. Do it when no one else will. Do it when there is no one around to cheer or witness it. It may be a cliche but it’s true: be the change you want to see in the world.
At a minimum, if one intends to be a solid ally, it is disrespectful to use the opportunity to aggrandize yourself and to seek a pat on the head. Remember ally rule number one: it’s not for you, and it’s not about you. This is advice I try to remember and live by, myself. I don’t know what anybody would call me (well, I suppose I could think of a few things), but I also try not to care. I speak up because I believe it’s the right thing to do. I have lost friends over it. At times it has been painful and unpleasant. This is not said to evoke sympathy, because I don’t want any–I am still a highly privileged individual, as a heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied white male living in the US. But it is a matter of fact. A good ally does it even when it’s hard, even when it’s costly. To be honest, there is more I need to do, myself. And we could all do better.
So, if you ever find yourself tempted to create a spectacle in the name of social justice, in the name of being an ally… think about why, and make sure you’re acting toward an appropriate purpose. You won’t get a badge or a medal saying “#1 ALLY” but you’ll have the satisfaction of having done the right thing for the right reasons.