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The Problem With Our So-Called Allies

By | 4/08/2013 Leave a Comment
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It's time to reconsider the necessity and usefulness of those who call themselves our allies. I say "our" with an assumption that those who speak out against white supremacist capitalist patriarchy have a genuine desire to dismantle the oppressive structures that shape the lives of marginalized groups. But, perhaps, I'm being presumptuous. Maybe we're not all on the same team.

Last week, I saw some care more for the self-appointed protectors than those who need protecting. I saw love extended to perpetrators while victims were left to defend their character and work. That's not the battle I'm fighting.

Rapper Talib Kweli sparked debate with comments that Rick Ross needs to be "embrace[d] with love" in the wake of the firestorm surrounding lyrics on "U. O. E. N. O." that endorsed date rape. Some women found the assertion particularly egregious. I'm not one of them. Kweli has a right to his opinion.

Kweli does not, however, have a right to demean and ridicule the women who call his tactics into question while claiming to be an ally. He responded to a thoughtful, well-reasoned critique from Brittney of the Crunk Feminists with unwarranted pettiness in a blog post that begins:
"Here’s the link to a blog that I feel is trying to ride my coattails in the wake of statements I made about hip hop lyrics."
But this is the most telling piece of Kweli's response
"...Recognize that I’m your ally whether you and your crew realize it or not. I always have been, I always will be, regardless of how you feel about it. Get your own damn megaphone. I rock mics."
Dripping with arrogance and entitlement, this is a clear attempt to silence and shame. Kweli asserts his authority as an ally by disregarding the concerns of Brittney and those who agree with her. Sadly, many men and women co-signed this act of aggression.

I am supremely disappointed in the men who doubled down on patriarchy to rally around Kweli and shield him from these critiques instead of compelling him to consider the viewpoints of those who experience rape culture. Kweli's perspective is not above reproach because he's a "good dude."

Brittney Cooper deserved better. All women deserve better. Women should not be afraid to voice their opinions for fear they'll be called a "ratchet hoe" or "bitch" as I was by Kweli defenders during our exchange.

Kweli ducked and dodged challenges all week abruptly ending discussions with women he deemed too angry or vulgar.

A woman I follow on Twitter acknowledged she tweeted him abrasively because the ongoing discussion of rape triggered her. Kweli struck back just as I'd witnessed during his exchange with dream hampton a few days earlier. The woman admitted fault, but her apologies, though appreciated, made me uncomfortable. As the overwhelming victims of sexual assault and primary targets of rape culture, women shouldn't constantly be asked to stretch ourselves across gaps in knowledge. Women need freedom to express our feelings without admonishment. Those who call themselves allies are responsible for understanding the contexts in which they speak; they are responsible for recognizing the structures of power from which they derive their privileges. And if this all sounds like too much to ask, then, perhaps, they should reconsider their claims to social justice work.

As Audre Lorde notes in the The Uses of Anger, genuine desire to build with those at the margins requires abandoning defensiveness, guilt, and self-interest. While women fight for the right to exist in a world free of constant mental and physical attacks, our allies cry about their hurt feelings and threatened masculinities.

The issue is much greater than a single man or moment. Women must ask who are our allies and what liberties do we accord them simply for taking on the label? The blind spots in the activism of so many of our would-be allies prevent them from fully engaging with their own positions within oppressive power structures.

In discussions about misogyny and sexism, women are the experts. Trust us. Trust our knowledge, our experiences, and our pain. If women's voices can't come first on the issues that shape our lives -- on those that result disproportionately in the loss of our safety and security, when will we ever be heard?

Few would argue blacks should follow dutifully behind the whites that lend their voices to secure anti-racism; however, centering men in praxis of anti-sexism is routine because many view that as natural order. Some believe women should thank men for every extended hand even if that same hand will push us down if we step out of our place. As a woman, I am not so grateful to men for doing the right thing that I overlook any problematic positions or actions.

The worst allies believe they're doing a favor; they compulsively pat themselves on the back; they spend more time deflecting correction that reflecting on their questionable judgements; they demand our gratitude and our silence. I do not want nor need allies who spend their time dressing down those they claim they're trying to help.

No marginalized group can dismantle the fortress of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy alone. I don't want to believe that Black women will always have to fend for ourselves in the fight for full humanity, but I won't settle for allies that scold us for opinions or "tone" they don't like. Allies who bristle at earnest criticism from the members of the community they desire to serve hurt us more than they help. We must demand more of those who claim to speak on our behalf.

Related:

I Blame Myself: The Consequences of Enjoying Rick Ross, Rap, and Rape Culture
 

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or
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