Progressivism, Part 3: A Job for Allies

Quick recap: In part 2, I implored progressives to be nicer. If we want conservatives and moderates to heed our clamors for equality, we need to show them more respect. Then I remembered that this was partially my privilege speaking – no one who’s being oppressed should have to be nice about it. They have every right to their fury with the opposition. In fact, I consider anger one conceptual third of progressivism, alongside analysis and equality. So, how should progressives be both nicer and angry? Confounded, I wrapped things up and adjourned the question until part 3. Well, here we are. Wish me luck with this one, dear readers.

I sense the solution might lie with the concept of allies. An ally is a person who supports a group’s struggle for equality without belonging to that group. Male feminists are allies. White people who rally against racist police brutality are allies. Straight and cisgender people bringing up the rear in a Pride parade are allies. Neurotypical people who refute undying autism myths are allies. If you’re an outsider to an oppressed group, but you support them, and resolve to not be complicit in their oppression – all without stepping into the limelight – then you’re an ally.

Us allies (I’m using first-person pronouns again, because I’m the quintessential ally – a white, male, straight, cisgender, mostly neurotypical SJW) are in a unique position. We can discern the definitions and norms that disadvantage someone, and despise the fact, but we’re not disadvantaged ourselves. Therefore, our anger isn’t essential. And we’re not betraying our integrity by occasionally swallowing it.

So, how about this? How about us allies quell our inessential fury and become mild-mannered communicators? Can’t we stand proudly behind the oppressed, while stretching out a hand to the opposition? Someone needs to show that other side a measure of sympathy, or they’ll only radicalize in their isolation. (See part 2 for an in-depth analysis of that radicalization.) Us allies are the only ones they’ll hear out, anyway. Sad as it may be to admit, someone who’s blind to inequality will much sooner listen to those who share their privilege, than to those who don’t. This fact is cause for sorrow, but also action. It sucks that the voices of allies are needed so sorely, but that gives us the responsibility to use them effectively.

Say a guy online makes a comment along the lines of “women and men are equal now, feminists are no longer fighting for equality, they want supremacy.”

  • If you’re a woman, thrash him if you want. Call him names. Insult his height and other sensitive measurements. Scoff at his run-on sentence and give him a condescending crash course on semicolons. You may condemn sexism as aggressively as you wish, because you’re the one who suffers it. Not only that, but your anger is necessary fuel for feminism. It lets the world know that change is long overdue. If you want to try and make the guy listen, then of course, go ahead. You know the malevolent machinations of misogyny better than anyone. But it’s not your responsibility to educate anyone about them. (And you don’t need me to tell you that.)
  • If you’re non-binary, then you may not be targeted by the sexist statement, but you still belong to a marginalized gender. Feel free to go just as vicious and vitriolic. (Again, you don’t need me to tell you that.)
  • However, if you’re a man, an ally, consider my idea. Tell the guy that you understand him, that it might seem like gender equality has been accomplished in the Western world. Then explain that women have been considered subhuman for a substantial chunk of human history, and that such injustice doesn’t vanish just because you pass equitable legislation. Then assure him that there’s nothing wrong with being a man. Progressives aren’t trying to guilt-trip him for being one, though it may feel that way sometimes. Yes, comfort the guy. Whether he deserves it is irrelevant, because you’re not doing it for him, but for society. You’re authenticating the beauty of progressivism before its skeptical eyes. By comforting the guy, you’re demonstrating its kindness. By educating him, you’re demonstrating its thought.

That’s my solution to the opening dilemma. Allies should be nice. The oppressed should be angry. Now, obviously the groups intersect; an ally can also be oppressed and vice versa. For example, a white woman is disadvantaged in terms of gender, but not ethnicity. We should always think intersectionally, and check our position in any given power imbalance. Are we privileged or not, in this particular case? Then we pick our strategy of battle – kindness or unkindness – accordingly.

I’m not saying that the oppressed harbor only anger, and that they need allies to provide the more peaceful ingredients of progressivism. No, they possess all three ingredients in full – analysis, equality, and anger. However, anger is the most outwardly prominent, while kindness and analysis are reserved for the in-group. For example, though I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I presume that a black person is keener on sharing kindness and analysis with other people of color, than on gently teaching white people about racism. And that’s how things should be. But it also means that a lot of whites will feel unsettled by that person’s perceivedly unfriendly attitude.

That’s where allies should come in, to temper the attitude with patience and gentleness. To make it digestible for fragile egos. That’s certainly not a responsibility of the oppressed, but allies can bear to shoulder it, privileged as we are. It’s up to us to appease the resistance, alleviate the friction. I mentioned the progressive engine in part 2. If the anger of the oppressed is the fuel, then allies are the grease, the lubricant in the machine.

It’s not a glorious job description. But us allies shouldn’t get the glory anyway. Now, go out there and lubricate! Go, before my definition of progressivism develops again, to even weirder imagery.


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