Allyship – brilliant and must-read (and think about) Twitter thread by @sandyosullivan

Prof Sandy O’Sullivan (Wiradjuri, trans they/them)


On the importance of allies: Allyship has come under important scrutiny over the last few years. But I want to flag a few things that are crucial in understanding the value of allies to any group/people/individual that requires support from the broader community.

1:01 AM · Sep 19, 2021·Twitter Web App (see here)

  1. Being an ally isn’t an opportunity to either speak for a group or to ‘join’ that group. By definition, it’s the opposite. It’s a reason many of us roll our eyes when we hear about people telling us ‘their Skin names’ as though it presents an opportunity to say what they want.
  2. Listening, then not turning what you hear/observe into what *you* care about, is crucial in understanding allyship. Allies often hear and are a part of conversations the rest of us are excluded from. Use that to challenge and point to voices of those people you are allied to.
  3. Allies are powerful because they are often present in these other conversations. But if any constituted group (like a formal meeting, board etc) relies on allies to speak, fundamentally – as an ally – resist this. You can’t speak for them.
  4. Allies matter because they often exist in families (e.g. not everyone in my family is Aboriginal, not everyone in my family is transgender), or in our social circles, or with people we love and care for, or in our workplace, or in our faith communities. We live and love them.
  5. The main complaint of proclamations of allyship is that it’s patronising, erasing the experience of the group or individual by dumming down their lived experience simply to make it more palatable to others. The DiAngelo text is a prime example.
  6. Fundamentally, allyship is not being an [insert smaller group] whisperer. It’s listening to what that group or individual is already doing, needs from you, wants from you, and what they aspire to being/becoming, & supporting that. Not making money off it, like DiAngelo does.
  7. Allyship is also really uncomfortable for everyone. It’s a social contract without the agreement of all participants. Can you just proclaim your allyship to me (as an example) without seeking my agreement? If I agree, then the onus is on me to do work with you. To what end?
  8. But alliances & expectations are real. We have them in our friend groups, families, workplaces, and in our broader communities. We can expect things from those allies. E.g.I have articulated an expectation that they challenge someone who misgenders me when I’m not present.
  9. I have no way of knowing if this is followed, just like we have no way of knowing if allies to Aboriginal people really do express disdain at racist jokes or if they let it slide cos no Aboriginal person was there to hear it anyway.

10.Performative allyship is also a huge concern. PA includes proclaiming allyship only when visible, while falling back on the values of the establishment. PA is Di Angelo barely referencing generations of scholarship by people who are not white, as they write about white racism.

  1. So what’s the value of allies? It can only be to disrupt, not to make coherent. For example, an ally who has board membership should be asking why the board isn’t seeking input or membership from a group, not attempting to speak for them or explaining why they’re not present.
  2. Allies are often important within families in a specific way. As an example, if your young kid is gender-diverse and you aren’t, you will need to be an ally to help them navigate. Part of that allyship will be recognising a broader community, of which you are not a part.
  3. Many of us have had great allies in our lives. My Mum was a great ally to us as Aboriginal people, and to me as a queer person. Couldn’t have been better. Because she never spoke for my experience. Her allyship also meant I could be ‘at rest’ in her presence, not defensive.
  4. With colleagues at work, good allyship is remembering we aren’t a ‘tick a box’ across all diversities, and also that our experiences are not automatically representative. Too many folks get forced into this, and often by allies. Don’t do that.
  5. Good allyship is also remembering that we aren’t the ‘elephant in the room’ either. So if someone has lived experience, then deference could be a part of the conversation. This is tricky, because it’s often the answer to not expecting us to be all things to all people.
  6. Communication is key. But contacting a random Aboriginal person and asking how you can be a good ally is not it. Talking to family, friends, colleagues about what you can do, may be. Asking how your org can do better, but doing that after reading and reflecting, is.
  7. Also, I’m making proclamations of what *I* consider good allyship, but this is relational and subjective, because of course it is. Allyship requires ongoing negotiation, not settlement, not ease. So asking the question of, and offering the reason for, allyship matters.
18. If the answer is ‘to be good person’, explore that further too… we owe it to one another to do that. We are all bound by our cultural and social experiences, and they aren’t inherently ‘good’ or not. So work out what you mean when you say ‘good’, and say it to others.
19. I used to teach an intro to Indigenous Studies, w/students from many disciplines. Those expressing racism were easy to get to reflect. But one cohort expressed support for Indigenous ppl, until their own position was at odds with what Indigenous ppl wanted: enviro activists.
20. I couldn’t get them to change their positions if I tried (I did for many years). Their own sense of righteousness and their own idea of ‘good’ won out. They believed that they were allies of Indigenous people, regardless of what Indigenous people told them they wanted.
21. So, is *ally* a problematic word that we shouldn’t use? Maybe. But allyship as an idea isn’t necessarily. It’s not a laundry list item that you can inhabit. It’s bound by listening, responding, action and reflection. It’s bound by ‘doing’ things. Especially when it’s hard.
22. Alliances are both helpful & problematic. Remember when QLD (where I live) called itself the ‘smart state’ cos it was worried nobody thought it was? Many alliances create defensive protection, masked as a positive, requiring demonstrations of the value of those protected.
23. But a true alliance is an agreement that recognises who falls within (and agrees to) the limits and who is not included. Alliances are ultimately against something, that’s the binary that they form. Work out who the against ‘is’. And if it’s also you, own that.
24. Apologies, that turned into me being a bit preachy about it. I have no actual answers. Many write about – and against – allyship as performative and meaningless, but being supportive and invested in what communities and people want for themselves, is fundamentally helpful.
25. One crucial problem that I encounter is how intersections of identity (please, this is NOT intersectionality), are unintentionally ignored or even challenged by allies to isolate experiences. Talking about queer OR Indigenous, not both, for instance.
*clarification: what I meant above is that intersections of identity is not what intersectionality is, no matter how badly it’s mangled by folks who want to call themselves ‘intersectional’, they often don’t actually understand what it means when they say it.
26. These kinds of erasures diminish the complexity of groups of people. People with a disability can also be queer and can also be Indigenous. Obviously. When I list it off, allies nod, yet their orgs continue to corral into silos that require people to be one, not the other.
27. I argue that being a ‘good ally’ needs specificity for all of the reasons I list. It also requires you to articulate your position, and this is probably the most difficult for allies. I balk at it myself as an ally and I find it really uncomfortable.
28. By recognising the potential problems with allyship while considering the underpinning reasons that we want to be allies can be a helpful starting *thought* at the very least. Speaking for others, or even trying to gather their thoughts into your own isn’t helpful.
29. I don’t sound like I’m making a case for allyship, so let me speak to what I do as an ally. For me, it’s totally contingent; I own that. I am not randomly an ally. I don’t want to be an ally to groups that I see as damaging, e.g. TERFs or folks promoting carceral solutions.

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