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Five Simple Steps To Be An Ally: A Guide For Straight, White, Cisgender Men, by a Straight, White, Cisgender Man

By Petr Knava | Think Pieces | July 28, 2016 | Comments ()

By Petr Knava | Think Pieces | July 28, 2016 |


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Okay listen up, lads, because this here is an important and easy lesson to learn: Conflict will get us nowhere.

Division does us no good.

There is only one group of people who benefit from our internecine strife, and that is the rich and powerful. Because while we’re busy hating on and arguing with each other over our differing religions, skin colours, sexualities, gender identities, yearly incomes, and social statuses, there’s a steady stream of smug fuckers out there, constantly walking back and forth from the bank.

But I’m pretty sure a lot of you already know that. So herein lies the rub: Shit always rolls downhill. The system’s designed that way. And while bits of it will settle on parts of the slope on the way down, somewhat dirtying even those relatively high up, it will always smother most those on the bottom, and always leave those at the top untouched.

The point being: apart from those at the top we all get shat on. But some of us get shat on more, some of us less, and it’s the duty of those of us nearer to the top to — at the very least — realise that we are nearer to the top, why we are there, and to not hinder those who would like to join us in our rarefied, less-shat-on perch.

Then, after that, we can all climb together the rest of the way, and level the fucking hill altogether.

But until then, here’s some very basic guidelines for those of us who are not-poverty-stricken, white, straight, cisgender men for fulfilling those two aforementioned basic criteria for Not Being A Dick:

1. Listen
A simple step to start with, but that’s often the best way to do it. Tragically this is also one of the thing that is very often misunderstood, so I’ll say it here in bold: ‘listen’ does not mean ‘wait for your chance to talk.’

When someone opens their mouth to express an idea they will often, by definition, be expressing something unique to them. They will be choosing their words carefully, and they will be trying to communicate something to you. This is a wonderful thing. You could in fact say that it is the whole point of us having beaten and climbed our way out of the primordial ooze and up our evolutionary ladder. So that we could create magical conceptual word-clouds in the physical spaces between us; and so that we could absorb them and combine them and get something completely new and unexpected out of them.

Others know what we so often think we know, when in reality we don’t have a fucking clue. So if someone actually goes to the effort to coalesce a magical conceptual word-cloud in front of your face, at least let it absorb into you and consider it before you start firing off one of you own.

Which leads us to…

2. Realise The Existence Of Your Privilege
Okay, I know this has become somewhat of a fraught word in recent times, so instead of calling it privilege I will call it: ‘dearth of hindrance.’ Remember what I said about the slope upon which we all reside, and the shit that gets rolled downhill? And about how we, as non-poverty stricken, straight, cis, white males, inhabit one of the very highest levels? Like, we’re pretty much just below the penthouse where the elite reside (there’s a reason so many of them look like us by the way — it’s quite the porous layer between the two). And you know how sometimes people who look like celebrities get mistaken for celebrities and they get special treatment? Maybe getting to skip the line at a club or something? Well we might not be members of the elite penthouse set, but we sure as fuck look like them, and we get a whole lotta free passes for that as a result. Or rather, we don’t get fucked over by a system created to fuck over those that don’t look like them. Our version of getting to skip the queue at a club is not getting shot for trying to help an autistic patient of ours because of the colour of our skin. Or not having to struggle with seeing versions of ourselves in the media. Or not having to worry that the punishment for someone raping us will be the equivalent to a quick slap on the wrist.

Those things might not feel like free passes.

They might just feel like the way things should be.

Exactly!

And just because it appears that this point needs ceaseless repeating: as members of the straight, white, cis male brigade, acknowledging this privilege does not mean that we do not suffer — just that our suffering does not stem from our membership of said brigade.

3. Don’t Make It About You
Now, let’s say some of the occupants of the levels below on Shit Hill do decide to speak up about something important to them. Maybe any of those issues just mentioned that we take for granted. How should be deal with that? Listen, yeah. Step 1. Well remembered. Step 2 is folded into the whole thing too. But here’s the next thing: don’t reframe the issue as how it pertains to us. Yes, understand; yes, relate it to any experiences you might have that might make you understand more; but don’t hijack the conversation and quack on like an angry duck fed amphetamines. That way you add to the white noise; and there’s already enough bullshit clogging the airwaves.

4. Don’t Presume That Help Is Needed Or Wanted
This here is a nuanced point. So let’s all take a five minute whisky break and reconvene back here with a clearer head.

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Done? No? Alright, just bring the whisky back with you.

As I say — this right here is a nuanced, delicate point. Because of course help, if needed, is a thing that should be given; and for those of us walking around with the cape of privilege it might be tempting to zoom in, bursting through the window superhero style at the first sign. This is often a bad idea. Partly because it relates to the point above — making shit about you — and partly because it can disempower the person you are trying to help and empower.

I know. Hair-splitting like a motherfucker. But here’s the thing: there’s a difference between solidarity and charity. Solidarity is a groundswell; a tectonic shift that upends the system creating the injustice in the first place. It levels the playing field. Charity, as often necessary as it might be, does have a dark side. It can help perpetuate the problem by ameliorating guilt for those giving it; by providing only a band-aid when surgery is needed. Charity without solidarity is not all it is cracked up to be.

Here’s a thing you can watch if you have that’s sorta talking about what I mean, but in a more class-focused way:

It can get confusing. I get confused by it all the time, and wish that shit could just be as simple as it is when I don’t think about these things. You know, when I can just be. Know what I mean?

*CLAXON NOISE*

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5. Actively Question Those Of Us Who Talk Shit
There is no such thing as just being. There isn’t a simple world where you can chill by the pool and let the sun take you away. We think there is because we have the luxury of so often being able to relax and to not worry about all the shit we’ve talked about here. But I get it, sometimes it’s easy to forget. That’s the nature of comfort: you can forgot about discomfort. In fact it’s easy to forget about discomfort, because thinking about discomfort is fucking uncomfortable. And some of our kind, they react badly to being reminded of the discomfort out there. They don’t wanna hear about it, and they’ll often vocalise this. Sometimes they’ll only vocalise it in groups of our kind. They’ll moan about women or people of different colour or transgender people or Muslims.

That’s when we have only one job: shutting that shit down.

Now, just as there is a spectrum of nonsense that runs from overtly hateful to subtly dangerous, there are multiple strategies for dealing with it. If it has to come to it, then it comes to it, but as a rule: fistfights rarely solve anything. They tend to just breed more nonsense. Instead, ask plain questions. ‘Oh really? Why do you think that?’ Ignorance and hate thrives in the dark. Shine an innocent light on it and it flees; often transforms.

Above all, remember, there’s no inherent reason why Shit Hill is designed this way. We live on it. We can change it. Together.

Oh, and also: if this article annoys you; if you feel like you’re being lectured to and you don’t like it; if you do all these things already and you are the perfect ally, then good! Glad at least one person is. That’s lovely. But if you think one person seeing the light = systemic overhaul, then sorry, you haven’t seen the light. Many, many of us haven’t. Just be glad that the extent of your suffering, as is often the case with those of us who live on our level of Shit Hill, is mild annoyance, instead of all the horrors that those below have to deal with.

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Petr Knava
lives in London and plays music


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