Today's lesson, Racism. If you see something written here that you’ve said or done, use it as an opportunity. Take it as a wake up call and make the decision to grow, change and be conscious of your own privilege. Remember, I am not a speaker for the entirety of a people.
Being an ally isn’t easy. No, I am not talking about how you are treated in the world or the community. I am talking about the stages a person is likely to go through when they make the conscious decision to be an ally. Just so we’re clear, this list pertains to actual allies not fair weather allies or those that are allies for fashion.
The decision. How you come to the decision in the first place, I believe, has a great deal to do with what you can and can’t avoid on the rest of this list. Was this an intellectual decision? Did you read something that enraged you and made you want to change the world? Did you see something happen in front of you? Something that you felt was an injustice and THAT made you want to change the world? The decision is likely the easiest part of the list.
The realization. Whatever your life is, you have some sort of privilege. You may not have much but the very fact that you are an ally for some group means that you likely (at least) have privilege over them. This is the stage where you start to realize all the things that are afforded to you because you are a certain race, gender, orientation, etc. This is an irritating stage. This is usually when you want to shout “Fuck the world.” This is the moment when you realize just how unfair the lives are of people that aren’t like you.
The accusation. This is not an accusation someone makes against you. It’s the one you make against yourself. For most of us, being an ally is something re-learned not something that is just naturally there. Sure, if you have somehow been shielded from the world most of us live in, you may not have to unlearn your thoughts but that isn’t a realistic situation. This means that before you made the decision to be an ally, you likely were a person who did the very things you now want to stop others from doing. This is upsetting. It’s upsetting if you once lived your life as an asshole but I find that it is even more upsetting for those that considered themselves to be “Good people.” It’s not that it isn’t difficult for those that were assholes. What I am saying is that the people who are aware that they were a-holes, they are able to say “I hate who I was. I was an asshole.” Where the person who always believed that they were a good person is left with…”I was an asshole and I had no idea.” In both cases, listing all the bullshit in your head that you’ve said or done that may have hurt someone else, is heartbreaking. If you are able to go back and apologize to those that may have been hurt, it’s necessary but uncomfortable. Even if you feel you’ve changed. It is difficult to admit that you were not always the decent person that you now see when you look in the mirror.
It’s Everywhere. This is an equally difficult and upsetting stage. This is where you see how the world works. You notice things that you’ve never noticed before. For example, if you are an ally for racial equality, you will notice racism everywhere. On TV, around your friends/family, at school, at work, in the news paper. There will be no “Safe place” for you to rest your eyes. You’ll see it everywhere because sadly, it is everywhere. This will piss you off. Not only will it piss you off, it will once again make you want to scream, “FUCK THE WORLD!” In addition to the anger you feel, you will also have a feeling of superiority. You are now on the path to being “Better” than all of these ignorant, unenlightened people. It’s a similar phenomena to those that go to college, take a single Psychology class and then start talking about how Freudian everything is. The other issue with this stage is that the immediate combination of feeling like you know better and being bombarded with the horrid realization of the world we live in, will often make you think that you are Rocky. You are not Rocky. I repeat, you are not Rocky. Use your words. Cuss and argue but unless you are willing to exchange punches all day, every day, keep it word centric.
Balance. Next comes balance. This is a lovely stage. It’s difficult at first because balance is hard to find when you feel like you are fighting a never ending battle. If you keep with it, this day will come. Unfortunately, this stage usually comes as a form of breaking point. When you’ve argued longer than you could actually handle and you feel mentally and physically broken. This is the moment when you’ll say, “I need a safe place.” This is when you’ll make the decision to write but not read the notes or to purposely avoid certain places and/or situations that you used to love just because you know there is an argument there waiting for you. This is not easy. By this point you have developed a bit of a habit so changing it, although necessary, is very difficult. Once you master this, you’ll find that you feel happier and healthier. As time passes, the final step will become your normal. You’ll fight your wars and you’ll leave it all on the battle field. That’s not to say that you still won’t be hurt, angry and feel rage. It just means that you’ll know where your “I’m done” point is and when you feel it coming, you’ll know it’s time to stop and take care of you.
*These are all things that either I or people I have discussed this with have gone through in our efforts to be good allies. There are certainly things on this list that some of the luckier people are able to avoid altogether but for most of us, this list is pretty spot on. It’s not easy but it is necessary. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. It’s not easy but it’s what you do to fight the good fight.