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Stuff Allies Like

September 8, 2011 8 comments

I just read yet another blog post by a straight white cisgendered male (SWCM) that goes on at length about how SWCMs need to “shut up and listen.”

To paraphrase Ed Lin, “c’mon white people!”

Now, I don’t read much sci-fi so I don’t know much about John Scalzi, and so this isn’t about his intellect or the quality of his writing which I’m sure are considerable. But I did notice that his post is chock-full of stuff allies like me like to read and write:

  • Getting cookies. Since we’re enlightened enough to know that nobody’s going to give us any cookies for exemplary service as an ally, we use posts like these to bake them for ourselves.
  • Hogging the mike. Scalzi makes no effort to lend a voice in support of the people who lack his privilege. There’s not a single mention of a book or website or blog entry by, say, a woman of color or anyone queer.
  • Dipping a toe into the oppression olympics kiddie pool. Scalzi mentions that he grew up poor. Perhaps to underscore that he really “gets it” and maybe to dull the sharp edge of his own privilege just a little. If we try hard enough, we can all come up with a disability or disadvantage that we can use to demonstrate our understanding of intersectionality.
  • Receiving applause. The comments feature a parade of SWCMs who chime in at length about how they get it too.
  • Maintaining control. In the comments, his degree of “getting it” gives him a higher ground from which to wield his mighty discussion-ending hammer, like when someone has the nerve to point out that ‘the people yelling the loudest to “shut up and listen” are some of the most in need to practice it.’

Now, just because John Scalzi is a privileged SWCM like me, that doesn’t make him a bad person. But as friends of mine know, one of my mantras is that “everyone wants to be the hero in their own story.”

When we SWCMs are forced to confront our own privilege, one story we tell ourselves is that by educating other similarly privileged people we are fighting oppression. When in reality we have done nothing to save the life of a trans woman, or find a job for a person of color, or get an equal wage for a woman, or enact marriage equality for a gay couple, or keep an immigrant family together, or provide affordable health care to anyone, or give even a token of attention to any person who might actually have lived the experience of oppression we so eloquently and grandly denounce.

Oh, I know it’s supposed to be a good thing for us SWCMs to “get it” and to have a privileged space in which to talk with other privileged people about our Privileged People’s Problems. And yet every time I read one of these self-congratulatory “I get it” pieces (which I confess I’ve written as well) I want to gouge my eyes out with an icepick.

Updated: It’s one thing to say “my sandbox, my rules” but if you’re trying to position yourself as an ally who listens to marginalized people, then deleting the comment of someone with an icon that sure looks like a woman of color and identifies as a “Black, Jewish, Queer, Fat, Disabled Chick” is doing it wrong. At the very least it deserves a click on the gravatar. Also, I suggest perusing Derailing for Dummies. The section You’ve Lost Your Temper So I Don’t Have To Listen To You Anymore seems particularly appropriate.

Categories: Essays Tags: , ,
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