On White Ladies and Allyship

This post has been brewing in my head for a while and, like most of what I write, may not really come together until the last punctuation mark. I won't pretend to be an expert, but this is what I think and feel and, as always, means that it's subject to mistake and has room to grow. My writings on this subject would have been different a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. The point is always to learn and grow and I hope reading this facilitates that for you and I hope it helps me grow as well. I also may forget some shit, so feel free to add to this in the comments.

SO! So, this is mostly going to be for my fellow white ladies, but I think that lessons in allyship can be translatable to many communities, whether you want to be an ally to women or to GLBTQ people or the disabled community, etc. The basics of being an ally are like hair care: simple and finite. So stick around, whoever you are, and hopefully you won't regret it. And please forgive this loudmouthed white lady if I don't stay in my lane.

First of the alls, white ladies, it's time we be better allies to women of color. I want to specifically address this woman on woman crime, because white feminism has grown on the backs of women of color for far too long.  It often feels like a big burden to overcome, this legacy of our fore-mothers who fought for women's rights feels like something we should celebrate, but, when you look closely, you learn that this legacy only exists at the expense of women of color. That just taints any accomplishment if you ask me. I'm not saying don't celebrate the milestones, but do so while remembering the real history and how flawed and incomplete the achievements really were.

It also means that our generation needs to step up and work to elevate the women who have been left behind. White feminists, we can no longer call ourselves feminists unless our brand of feminism is intersectional.  I know this seems impossibly fraught with missteps and impossible work, so here are my humble opinions on how to do it.

Don't do it for the glory and don't do it out of guilt; do it for the necessity of it. This is White Savior Complex and White Guilt. I've linked up the wiki pages explaining these terms so I don't have to explain them to you. All I'll say is this: check your motivations and make sure your reasons are good. PoC don't need saving, because they're perfectly capable humans that live on this planet just like us. But the systematic and institutional oppressions that govern the US benefit us white folks and we are in a position to use our privilege for good. Personally, if I'm going to claim to believe in equality and equity, I think that means I have to step up and work to make those things happen. I'd rather not spout empty words and then just sit on my ass and watch the world burn.

You may have heard the phrase, "Don't do it for the cookies," or some variation thereof. Don't do it because you want to assuage guilt or because you want to feel good about yourself. NOW, you may not be able to avoid the good feelings (winky face). Remember that Friends episode where Phoebe wants to be selfless and Joey is like, there's no such thing as a selfless good deed because it makes you feel good about yourself. When you do good things and put good into the world, you're probably gonna feel good about it! But instead of taking the cookies and feeling smug, let that high fuel you to do more good things.

I think that an effective way to do this is amplify and support the work already being done by WoC and others, whether it's raising the voices of writers or supporting orgs by volunteering or donating money. I have a regular donation to BLM and I follow a few activists and orgs and, if they tell me to donate or call my reps, I do it. You can also get your ass out on the streets and march and protest. I think it's okay to choose how much you can do and give dependent on your situation, but just be sure you're there to support, not take over. This isn't about you! Again, don't ask for cookies. And be wary of orgs that fight for racial justice but have no PoC in their leadership.

That said, I think it's okay to need some validation. For one, it's always valuable to hear that you're on the right track and doing the right thing. I wouldn't force your friends who are PoC to be the recipients of that need (like, don't text them asking them to confirm your actions), but it's okay to find forums where people bounce ideas off each other and respectfully debate. And, often, just by being an avid reader or respectful listener, you'll know if what you're doing and saying is the right way to go. And don't ask stupid questions or make your friends hold your hand. You're a big kid and Google is free.

Don't be that person who thinks they can do no wrong. Not only is that person obnoxious, you'll never learn and grow if you already think you know it all and you're sure as shit going to get super defensive when someone calls you on your shit. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I feel defensive too. It's natural to want to defend oneself when the ego gets bruised, but here's my little trick to get some perspective (this one won't work for the men, most likely):

I flip the scenario and picture myself as a mansplainer talking to women. If it would be obnoxious if a man said it to me (or a woman), maybe I should check myself. How do I feel when a man tries to explain being a woman to me? Well, that's probably how a PoC feels when a white person tries to explain racism to them.

So, LEARN TO SHUT UP. This one is really hard for me. I'm a loud mouth. I'm a talker. It's my nature. I've always got something to say. Even right now, writing this, I feel like a loudmouth and that I may be talking out of turn. It's hard to know when to talk! But that isn't always productive and it's not always respectful. When I find that I HAVE to say something, I try to make it a validation of the person whose voice I should be amplifying. It's my own little way to curb my big mouth.

It can be hard to keep up, I know. We live in an ever-changing landscape of wokeness (forgive me for using the word, but I think it's the most apt), which is a good thing, because it means that folks (usually smart as fuck young people) are working hard to improve and learn change the world for the better. It's going to be an ever-evolving process as more voices are heard and we break down societal normatives. Whether it's racial justice or concepts of gender, it can be extremely difficult to keep on top of the knowledge and the vernacular and it probably feels like you're walking through a field of language landmines while you try to do and say the right thing, but you inevitably fuck up. 

But, look at it this way: it's not about you and growing pains lead to (shockingly) growth. The pressure to say the right thing is nothing compared to the oppressive culture that language enforces. Your embarrassment is nothing to feeling repeatedly misgendered or experiencing constant racial microaggressions.  I think that as long as you're respectful, it's always okay to ask questions. Ask someone their preferred pronouns or if it's okay for you to use a certain phrase. 

And that brings me to my other motto: don't be an asshole. Isn't it better to just not be an asshole? It's one thing to try and make a mistake; it's quite another to refuse to participate in being a good person. You're tired of learning all the new vernacular? Sure, but isn't it worth is to just not be an asshole? 

But be kind to yourself! You are going to make mistakes. You're going to say something stupid. This may be hard to believe, but (wait for it) I'm not perfect either. SHOCKING, I know! But I subscribe to a couple of rules of thumb: When you make a mistake, own your shit and apologize and mean it. And then learn from your mistake.

It's really that simple. I've always been amazed at how much respect you garner for yourself when you just own your shit. People who think they can do no wrong are the most insufferable people I know. We're humans and we're going to fuck up. Just recognize it and do better next time. 

It's okay to struggle with things. Have you ever learned a foreign language? It's difficult and, the older you are, it's scientifically harder for your brain to adapt. When I lived abroad, sometimes I'd just be so exhausted from pushing my brain to speak in French that I'd just pass out in bed without dinner. Well, social justice and allyship, depending on how long you've been exposed to it, can be JUST like learning a new language! So take brain breaks when you need them and apologize and forgive yourself when you use the wrong verb tense. But, don't let age or tradition be an excuse not to try. Being stubborn just makes you an asshole. 

Allyship is a full time job, but it doesn't have to literally be your full time job. I know that makes no sense but bear with me. Being an ally means always being an ally, not just on facebook or not just on the weekends when you get out and protest. Do what you can, but the biggest way to be an ally is to use your voice with those around you. Whether it's a coworker or your crazy Aunt Louise or some dickwad harassing someone on the bus, that's your time to say something and stand up. For example, I expect my male friends to call out their fellow dudes when they hear misogynist language or they see their friend harass a woman. These guys clearly don't hear us womenfolk, so it's up to our cis-hetero-male allies to say something. Therefore, by the law of transitive properties (probably, I don't remember. High School was a thousand years ago), that means I need to stand up to fellow white people when they're being racist fucks. That's why it's a full time job, because if PoC have to literally live in a world which is oppressive, then the least we can do is speak up whenever and wherever is necessary. 

But don't be a fucking martyr. I mean, be a martyr if you want to, but don't be a douche about it. You don't have to quit enjoying things and just adsorb news and maintain a constant level of horror. Who can live like that? It's impossible! It's okay to take a day off from the news or social media. It's okay to go see a movie and to find things funny and have a party and live your goddamn life. Laugh, goddammit! Laughter is so important. Laughter makes the horror bearable.  Just make sure integrate a level of awareness and responsibility into your consciousness so that you can speak up and step up when you need to.

I don't know that we can all claim to know what we'll do when faced with true danger. I live in Portland and have such immense respect for those brave souls who lost their lives recently trying to stand up to a white supremacist bastard. I only hope I'd be that brave, but who knows? Who knows. 

Okay my brain is officially depleted of thoughts now. So what'd I miss? 


  1. An important reminder to be aware, be accountable, and to not be an asshole. Well stated. ♡

    Also, laugh goddamnit might be a new mantra for me.


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