Last night I took my daughter out for some Mexican food at our favorite taqueria. When we got to the booth, she asked me to sit with her. We worked on her homework and shared chips (she hates anything spicy, so she eschews salsa in favor of salt. Little weirdo…), horchata, and quesadillas. And she leaned on me, as she does. And I feel all the warmth, all the love, all the want and acceptance. And then I walked her home. And she told me something to the effect that she doesn’t want me picking her up from school so much.
This is the part where daddy would start freaking out and asserting daddy’s rights and reminding her how much I\daddy loves her. And, to an extent, I did do some of that, but I tried to check it. Some of the most helpful advice I received from parenting is to not re-center her declarations on to my hurt. If she has something to share, there is a reason for it. And I, in my position of power over her, need to be able to stop and listen and ascertain. I’ve come to trust that advice because it’s true, not just with my daughter but particularly in areas where I have privilege over or power over another.
I try to carry the same advice into other areas too. And I sure do often fail. Of course I do. It’s not natural. But I believe it is essential and improves both the relationships and myself. Otherwise, there is no progress; there is no learning; there is no righting; there is no justice; there is no peace.
I don’t try to treat my friends, my clients, and people at the intersections of marginalization and oppression like my daughter because I think they are children. I listen to my daughter without reacting because I have this radical philosophy that she’s a human being and needs respect and space. I try to extend that elsewhere (though I suffer no one’s tantrums in the same way I do hers. If y’all ask me for candy, I’m out!) because I think others who don’t look or act like me are also human beings.
This is what allyship* is about: De-centering and listening.
Listening for a good long time.
When my daughter asks me for my advice, I give it to her. When she tells me what’s wrong with her, I listen, try to affirm her, and look to find a solution. I may need to offer an unequivocal apology. I may actually need to explain what’s happening (not explain away, mind you). I may need to give her a hug (as her daddy. I don’t suggest this for allyship).
When I speak as a person in poverty, I do not want a middle class person interrupting me and telling me they “get” something they don’t necessarily get (“I was like that for a couple months in college” isn’t nearly the same thing as being in a constant state of emergency and homelessness). While I appreciate my friends sympathizing and commiserating in my struggles (and to my knowledge, none has ever done the following to me), but I cannot deal with people downplaying my pains in this area by comparing it to their experiences.^
I cannot speak for or into Blackness (though I have tried before); but if I listen closely enough, I can attempt to amplify what my Black friends say about their experience, using stats and history to share and illustrate the reality of the oppression of POC in the USA and this post-colonial world. Nor can I speak a woman’s perspective. Or a homo/bi-sexual’s experiences. I can NEVER understand them. And in those dynamics, I am the student. I can never understand what it is to be my daughter.
It’s important, as people who live in a planet with much injustice that we are a part of – whether we choose that or not is irrelevant, we participate in violence and oppression in myriad forms every day, through things as innocuous as participating in consumption and media representations, let alone micro-aggressions or politics** – to participate in the work of justice. To be active voices when and where appropriate, and to be listening when appropriate.
*I’m going to suggest that being an ally isn’t static. It’s not a label, like “Sales Associate” or “President.” It’s something we do, and it’s in flux. Thanks to Dianna Anderson for this read from Shakesville. Please read. Thanks.
^Edited: I felt it was necessary to make a distinction here between being a friend and in a position of being a friend, and in derailing and what that causes. As some pointed out on the Progressive Christian Twitters yesterday: Friend does not equal ally. Friendship does not equal allyship. We should not confuse the two.
**We’ll address this hopefully in the #NewPacifism synchroblog hosted by Political Jesus.