Conversations about race always seem to bring out well-meaning allies.
Now, while I am a firm believer that change cannot be brought about without the help of people in privileged positions in society, there are always the few that use their ally-ship to boost their privilege instead of leveling it. If you’ve ever wondered if you’re crazy for not wanting help from a well-meaning person… or even if as a self-professed ally you’ve ever wondered whether you’re helping or hindering, here’s a few ways to spot (if you’re) a fake ally.
Watch their reaction when the “marginalized” person they’re defending earns or receives something normally allotted to an ally due to privilege.
This is especially useful if you ever wondered if you are the “token” in a friendship dynamic. Get the guy, get the job, get the guy, get the compliment, GET THE GUY.. and watch all of the saccharine dissolve into a puddle of venom specifically pointed at what used to be “all” of your lives mattering. Bonus points if you’re “ally” gets their point across with sarcasm or humor (“shoot, if they can find love we ALL have a shot!”).
Critique a problematic act of “ally-ship”.
Fake allies revel in the appearance of being without flaw due to their self-appointed ally sainthood. If you ever point to their help actually being a hindrance, note their fury. Usually it’s something along the lines of “after all I’ve done for you people” and involves them retracting their assistance. Just ask Bernie supporters. Or, of course, #NotAlllMen.
Try, at any point, to retrieve the conversation back from their attempt to center it around themselves.
Have you ever started to discuss an incident of say, a micro-aggression with an “ally”, only to watch the conversation disintegrate into a therapy session for how it made THEM feel? Try to interrupt it. It usually turns into this. Or this. Or this. Or, goodness, THIS.
Watch how they react to you having the audacity to define your experience.
One of the most insidious ways privilege rears its ugly head is when others believe they are able to define you or speak to your experience better than you, the person actually living it, can.
Take Leslie Jones of SNL-fame. She has spent her entire time in the industry not being the “right” kind of tall, the “right” kind of plus-size, the “right” type of ethnically beautiful. However, she has repeatedly come under fire for doing what most comedians do and basing her routines around her lived experiences-because of the fact that her ACTUAL lived experiences also happen to be the punchline of a lot of cheap jokes about Black Women. Or take all the voices yelling over Viola Davis whenever she tries to explain what being “not classically beautiful” in Hollywood is like. Or when a woman dares to be fine with calling herself fat. It is impossible to be of any assistance as an ally if you want everything that makes you uncomfortable about someone else’s lived experience to just disappear.
Call it whatever you want, but if you feel in order to help someone you need to always stand in front and speak first, you can’t really call it helping. And if you find yourself angry after reading this post, well….maybe you’re not the ally you thought you were.
What about you? Have you ever had to check a fake ally?