Call me a Friend, rather than an Ally
This may sound a bit controversial, but please don’t call me an Ally.
I have always felt uncomfortable with the word ‘Ally’ and ‘Allyship’.
I understand the intention of the terms, and they are used broadly in contexts to signal connection between someone outside of a particular community to that community, and the efforts to provide support, advocacy or championing, and to use the power they have to do good for that community.
I never call myself an Ally because for one I think it’s uncomfortable to self-appoint as an Ally, but I also feel uncomfortable when someone thanks me for being an Ally.
The word ‘Ally’ makes me feel like I’m taking a side. And furthermore, I fear that it can make allies think that they are no longer contributing to the problem.
Allies can think that they are on the ‘right’ side. Allies can think that other people are the problem.
We are still part of the problem.
All ‘Allies’ are still part of the problem.
Even members of the community are still part of the problem.
Status as an Ally or a Champion does not absolve us of our prejudices or absolve us of the countless times that we don’t support, advocate or champion particular communities effectively.
It doesn’t absolve us of the ways that we continue to strengthen the system that disadvantages people who aren’t like us, whilst providing and reinforcing the unearned advantage to ourselves and in turn, people that are most like us.
Being an Ally does not absolve us from acting in self-interest, being cowardly or passiveness.
If we don’t continually check ourselves, we can easily fall into offering empty gestures or platitudes or fail to pick up on our potential acts of sabotage.
Instead, I think a better word to use than Ally could be ‘Friend’.
Friends aren’t perfect. Friends can let you down. Friends aren’t always there for you.
But friends do care for you, and friends try their best to give you the support you need, including – at times – self-sacrificial support.
Now, a lot of ‘Allies’ may already appreciate this in their efforts be better allies. But many don’t, and we think that our current actions are sufficient.
It could sound a bit corny, but perhaps we all need to challenge ourselves to be better friends with people who aren’t like us.