Me. I’m the worst ally ever. Us white people like to talk a lot about being allies. Especially us progressive protestant academic types. We love this language. It lets us of the hook of our own complicity.
“I’m an ally! Look! Loot at me!” Bullshit. Mostly I’m just trying to survive. And sometimes I’m shy and down-right cowardly.
I’ve been thinking about this the last week, thinking about what it means to sit there shocked and stupid when stuff like this happens. Clearly I’m beyond useless as an ally. I had a chance, in one of those spaces where the people who needed sticking up for have no access to stick up for themselves, to have their own voices, to say something. And I said nothing. And if I say nothing I am doing nothing to make room for those voices to come to the table.
I thought a lot about this this week, about what’s wrong with being an ally. Everything. Everything’s wrong with it. Being an ally is remaining complicit in the systems that make so much injustice possible. It’s being conscripted into being one of the “good” slave owners, good nazis, good patriarchs, good capitalists, good homophobes, etc. etc. that other privileged people can hide behind as part of the false “progress narrative” of tolerance. And I want no part of that.
Tolerance is part of the problem.
I went and talked to the man who said that BUT statement I was so irate about. I did. I scraped myself together and sat down and told him that it was wrong to say and that I have a problem with it. And he took partial responsibility for it. But only partial. It was a duck-and-dodge conversation, deflected to be about him and about the good interfaith charity programs our denomination and congregation participate in. Tolerance again.
Tolerance is what I do when the spring winds pick up and suddenly the air is filled with pollen and I’m sick as a dog. (I’m proof that you can grow up in the dirt, with all sorts of animals and plants, eating peanut butter everyday and still have an immune system that over-reacts to plant sperm like it’s some new kind of biological warfare weapon.) Tolerance is taking an antihistamine pill every morning and trying not to complain to everyone I meet about how miserable and dysfunctional I am surrounded by something I hate but have no choice about. I tolerate it.
And tolerance is not what people on the receiving end of bigotry and oppression deserve. I don’t want to be an ally of injustice systems and privileged white men who talk a lot about tolerance and diversity. And when we call ourselves allies that, too often, is what we become. We end up being the privileged allies of privilege. We’re nicely able to play both sides and because we think we’re woke we think it’s cool.
I don’t have all that much privilege. I’m a single mother. I’ve dealt every day with gender discrimination, with economic inequality, with the stigma of being a poor woman who lives outside of the hetero-patriarchal family norm. I know how much this shit sucks in my own life. But I’m also white, Christian, have USA birth certificate, and a college education. And I can’t imagine how much harder life would be if I didn’t have those advantages. Hard. I’m sure of that. I can still blend in, I can wear a fake wedding ring if I want to, I can let people think that I’m middle-class, I can access those all-white spaces. No one is trying to fire-bomb my house of worship or build a wall to keep my family out.
I don’t want me and my family to be merely tolerated. We know how shitty that feels, to be the black-sheep family of the community, the family that doesn’t fit in, that’s missing the piece with the penis that makes us OK in the eyes of the people with the power. It sucks. It’s isolating and lonely and alienating. I’m always so happy when my kids make friends with other kids who also come from “broken” homes. People like us, people who want us.
People who want us. Isn’t that what we all need, what community is really about? And sometimes the “people like us” maybe aren’t like us at all. Our people like us, people who like us, are over and over, people who don’t look like us, don’t talk like us, don’t pray like us. And that is what inclusion and pluralism and diversity are really about. People like us who aren’t at all like us and still like us. And I think that this is true for all those “other” people out there.
And it is more than that. Inclusion isn’t just inviting someone to the church book study but understanding that maybe they can’t afford the book or the gas to drive to the nice part of town. It’s addressing all those barriers that keep people out. Things like generations of systemic racism. Or centuries of genocide. Or colonialism and resource theft. And being a mere ally doesn’t cut it for these issues. Opening the doors isn’t enough when people have shackles on their ankles.
Yeah, I slightly redeemed myself as an ally. I went and had that hard discussion about antisemitism and not saying BUT and not sweeping it aside. I stuck a microscopic jamb in the door. But that isn’t at all what’s really needed. It won’t to a damn thing to stop synagogues from being targeted, to alleviate the suffering caused by 2,000 years of twisting the Gospel of John. (Which is what brought up the topic in the first place.) No, being an ally not only doesn’t help, it’s also a thin shield to protect my own ego and avoid my own complicity.
I’m a pathetic excuse for being of service to the people who most need it. And there’s a lot of freedom in facing that. It’s the freedom to not be an ally any more, to not tolerate mere tolerance. Maybe someday I will be able to afford allergy treatment, to try those shots that are supposed to reprogram the immune system. Maybe then I’ll be able to include lilacs and tulips and junipers and alfalfa and all the other plants I now merely tolerate in my life. And that’s what we need, collective immune-therapy to become includers rather than toleraters.