Hello my darlings,
Today I’d like to talk about something I call the “I’m an ally, so” trope. Not to be confused with a zoetrope:
The “I’m an ally, so” (or IAAS) trope relies on your knowledge that the person with whom you are interacting is an ally of such and such a group, allowing them, in their minds, to act in any way they see fit. This trope is used to justify some very un-ally-like behavior. Because, hey, you know we’re cool, right?
The IAAS is closely related to “some of my best friends are.” “Some of my best friends are” is used to show that, because you have (alleged) friends among the group you are maligning, your words or actions are somehow acceptable. For instance: “I think gay people are a dangerous menace to society and they don’t have the same rights as us normal folk, because God said homosexuality is an abomination. But hey, some of my best friends are gay, so you can’t call me homophobic.” A similar trope is “you know I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic, but…”, which is always used to contradict itself.
The difference between “I’m an ally, so” and “some of my best friends are” is that a person employing IAAS has committed hirself as an ally to a community, but wants to share prejudiced, biased or hateful views about that community which ze thinks should be covered by hir ally status. Let’s take a look:
“I love gay people, and I fully support their rights, but like, okay. Why are lesbians so grumpy? And why do flamey gay guys act like that? Like, just be yourself! But you know, like, I really love gay people, so don’t get mad.”
You can see the danger this trope represents. The ally in this situation thinks ze can wrap all hir beliefs up in a bundle, making anything ze says ally-worthy.
It’s just not true.
I’ve had a lot of interactions with this trope lately. I admit to getting a little extra heated when allies do or say bigoted things. Simply put: allies are held to a higher standard precisely because they’re allies. I don’t feel like I should have to look both ways when it comes to your support of my community. And the “I’m an ally, so” trope is really invisibilizing.
It says that I can’t respond to your bigotry because you’re supposed to be a friend.
Recently a friend was complaining about gay people who “talk about being gay all the time” and said I was “not that bad.” I fully admit to flipping a shit. (Hee, that rhymed.) I started throwing around words like heteropatriarchy at way too many decibels. I was, in short, quite upset.
My friend was bewildered at my reaction, and other people came to her defense, saying, “hey, you know she’s cool.” My problem was rooted precisely in the fact that she was cool. Or at least she was supposed to be. Bigotry hurts more, not less when it comes from your allies.
The IAAS relies on an invisible agreement that I don’t remember signing. It says, “hey, you have bigger bigoted fish than me to fry, so go fry them instead.” But how can we count on our allies to fry the big bigoted fish with us when they’re acting like those same fish? (OK, fish analogy over.)
Being an ally is less about the platitudes you present to allied community faces when they’re around and more about how you interact with people who don’t like us. And it scares me to no end that you might change your ally mask when I’m not around, and suddenly I become that gay/Jewish/whatever friend whom you use to justify your un-ally-like behavior.
“I’m an ally, so” cheapens your ally status and even the notion of being an ally itself. We can talk about anything you want. We can clear up any misgivings or misconceptions you have about being an ally. But it’s really important to feel like you’re actually in our corner – and not using ally status for hip cache or to cover for bigotry. Being an ally is not a band-aid for prejudice.
Nobody’s perfect. No one’s asking for perfect ideal-world allies, because no one can be that. But I am sure all of us can be better allies if we’re willing to try. And this trope just has to be put to rest before we can do that.