How to Spot a Fake Ally

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?  

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A Word on “Anti-Blackness” in Latin America

As March begins, and we transition from an eventful Black History Month (Formation, anyone?) to Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a quick look back at a few things that sat on my spirit.

Namely, the attention that has been brought to “anti-blackness” in Latin America, particularly from those of Afro-Latinx descent.

Now, while I understand I live in America, and Blackness is viewed, judged and “awarded” through the lens of African-Americans, one thing that particularly stood out to me is the misunderstanding of how we define it, or how we identify with it. And, as I struggle to find appropriate words as the issue of “proving” Blackness hits a bit too close to home, I thought sharing the first things that come to mind can maybe start much-needed dialogue and hopefully some understanding. With that said, a few random thoughts on Latinxs and Blackness:

Afro-Latinx, as a term, is brand-spanking new. However, Blackness in Latin America is not.

Latinxs-to the eyes of the outside world-are relatively “new” at “showcasing” the diverse faces of Latinidad, and having distinct terms to describe it. This does not mean we are new to our Blackness. It means we are new to describing it the way you do. There is a very rich Afro-Indigenous history in Latin America that many would know of if it weren’t for the pesky fact that the only time they pay attention to our Blackness is to self-righteously chastise us for “anti-Blackness”. “I no Black, Papi”, indeed.

Latinxs are a nationalistic bunch and tend to identify culturally first, much like you do..

You just happen to call that culture “Black”. To that point, much of what you consider anti-Black sentiment in the Latinx community belongs to a much larger conversation on anti-American sentiment (and African-American in relation to Blacks of other countries, for that matter), because “Black” has for so long been synonymous with “African American”. This is how you can say someone isn’t “Black enough” and when asked to expound cultural descriptors come out, such as movies, food or music.

Your challenges with colorism differ from ours- because where we are from many more of us are considered “dark”.

I didn’t identify as a light-skinned Black woman until well into adulthood; even though I considered myself Black, I identified as a Dark Latina. Many of the biases you identify as solely being of “dark girls” I have also experienced and can identify with within my culture, because “Spaniard” (read: lily white) is default, everything else is “dark”. Yes, there absolutely are levels to anti-Blackness within Latin America, and yes outright denial of African ancestry by some exists; yes colorism and favoritism based on varying degrees of skin-tone and hair grade exist. But many negative biases attributed to being dark-skinned can also be found within the context of being a “dark Latina”. Erasure, teasing, the desire and attempt to lighten skin and “tame” hair, wondering what life would be like if you didn’t look like that or your parents “bred up”, wondering if you’d ever see someone that looked like you on tv, not having makeup available in your shade, being “____for a dark-skinned girl”, being a guy’s charity case in dating… why do you think darker Latinas even started dating Black American men here? Do you really think Latin America would be home to some of the most advanced techniques in skin bleaching and hair straightening if it was only meant to “fix” the most ethnically dark in our bunch?

We are acutely aware the institution of racism in America uses Afro-Latinxs as proof of “progressiveness in diversity” at the exclusion of African Americans. We also need jobs.

Amongst people of color, Afro and Indigenous Hispanics enjoy both the lowest median income and the lowest education level OF LATINXS, who already have the largest pay gap in comparison to their white counterparts. Asking a Latinx to step aside in a job opportunity, as opposed to directly challenging the institution that put them in that predicament, just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But while we are on the subject, it should be pointed out that similarly, the institution of racism also uses peoples of the countries of Africa, non-Hispanic Afro-Caribbeans, Black Brits and others, especially in entertainment, to make the same statement of “progressive diversity”. Eliminating anti-Black sentiment as a whole-and anti- African American sentiment specifically-cannot be the responsibility of those whom you consider to be the “most privileged” among you-because we are all STILL considered “non-white”, which means that privilege is contingent upon the “favor” of an institution that takes great pride in reminding us of our “place” in society.

The truth is, I’m tired. Standing at an intersection means your work is added upon exponentially by whatever roads you cross, be them cultural, racial, orientation, gender, size or disability. And I do not know where we go from here. But I do know if I have taken the time to learn history and gain some understanding before I speak on things, it isn’t a lot to ask if others do the same. And maybe one day we will finally understand we’re all in this together, after all.

*Author’s Note- I very specifically did not refer to Zoe Saldana in this post because this is an issue much bigger than she, and I did not want to “date” this post with the reference. But if you believe she does not consider herself to be Black you are welcome to click here. Also, understand that whatever backlash she is receiving for her current projects is tame compared to the racist backlash she got for “Colombiana”. And honestly, after being subjected to over a decade in the industry of being forced to discuss race and ethnicity, I can’t say I would or wouldn’t have done what she did and opt out (as clumsily as she may have) from discussing it altogether. Again, before you defend or deride…try to understand.

From the Drafts Folder; The Problem with the “New” Blacks

***Editors Note:

Since the events surrounding Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and the protests in Ferguson and beyond, I’ve written…a lot. But try as I might, many emotions have kept me from saying what I want to say in the way I wanted to, or closing posts out in a way that seems…finished. The events, my feelings, this chapter in our history-it is ongoing, ever-evolving, and may not conclude in my lifetime. It is for this reason I am choosing to post my raw, unedited thoughts from the drafts folder, unfinished and all, once a week. This first post is almost a year old. Hopefully these unfinished posts will spark some discussion, or at the very least, personal reflection. Thanks for reading.***

 

All my life, people have told me “what” I am.

I have always found this amusing, as usually the declaration followed the question, “what are you?” Seemingly unsatisfied with whatever my response was at the time, I would first be told I didn’t “look” like it, and I would then be corrected with what I “really” was.

Which was sorta fair, because what I “was” constantly changed.

See, I am one of those blissful “new America” examples-a product of the melting pot of combined race and ethnicity, a bilingual 1st generation mish-mash of awesome. Which is great…until you try to find a lunch table at school and realize you aren’t “enough” of anything to have a seat. And, after enough lunches in the bathroom, what you end up doing is floating from one extreme to another in search of a place to belong. And float I did.

There was the phase where I wore the flag of my mother’s culture everywhere I went, hanging it on doors and using it as window curtains. There was the militant phase. The “all my ancestors were born free”-phase (don’t ask). The blue-haired outsider theater-geek phase. And I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t fall into the extra-angry gangster-phase, or the uh.. “Gamma Rays”-phase. But try as I might, I could never fit in well enough to join the club. So somewhere between the blue-hair and the natural hair phase I settled on just being..me. “I” was my identifier, not race, not ethnicity, not a food, music genre or movie collection. I stopped measuring my authenticity by other people’s standards. I know what I am, no matter how many times you attempt to correct me or take my [insert race/ethnicity] card away for some thing I was supposed to know or do. I’m not in your club? Fine, I’m in mine. Prosper and be great.

Part of my process to get to my current level of contentment was writing. I wrote about race…a lot. Won a few awards for it, too. But as I brought my “unique” views to the public forefront I found out I had many more detractors than supporters. While it was comforting to learn I was not alone and find my audience, a hard fact began to emerge. See, in a world where everybody wanna be a n*gga but don’t nobody wanna be a n*gga, unsurprisingly few really want to hear about the n*gga that wasn’t n*gga enough.

Which brings me to the Pharrell’s and the Saldana’s of the world. Because of our shared experiences with cultural invisibility, I understand every word they’re saying about getting “past” race. I even agree to some extent.

Sure Pharrell can decide to “transcend race” and become the “new Black”. Yes, Saldana can declare she’s “past race” and has bigger fish to fry…but what about the Lupita Nyon’go’s of the world that can’t? What good is a movement if you can’t bring everybody with you?

The Imperfect Ally- Who Speaks for Us?

***This piece is in response to the backlash over THIS article by Damon Young of VSB. Read, and if you dare, share your story.

 

Before I hit the third grade, a family friend once joked that women needed to hurry up and get their first assault out of the way so they could get on with the rest of their lives.

Hey, what did you expect? I was born female. Walk with me for a bit.

My childhood birds and bees talk consisted of the standard mechanics with a caveat; the warning there are going to be people on this earth that believe your body belongs to them. It is your job to put distance between you and those people and alert adults accordingly. My life has been cultivated around maintaining that distance.

Everybody has a morning routine.  Mine also includes the walk to the train, where I have to allow the appropriate seconds to acknowledge the four men that block my way to the station every morning. Pleasantries are exchanged, my smile adjusted if I wasn’t “happy” enough that day; my daily performance art. The price I am told I have to pay for being “so pretty miss lady!”

I have only ever been inebriated to the point of needing assistance once in my life. Thankfully, that assistance came at the moment someone tried to lock me in an empty bedroom to “get away from the noise and talk some more”.

When I did go to the club my girls and I had a system; one to the bathroom, one holds the drinks. No one accepts a drink handed to them; we walk to the bar and accept it in person. We came together, we leave together. Everyone gets a text when we get home. Understand the rules?  Good, now lets have (not too much) fun!!

I have been told that I can’t live my life as a victim. That I can’t just not have fun. That walking around in fear is no way to live. That I need to drink this shot and live a little.

And every time I have been told this it has been from a man.

It is very easy to live your entire life without ever knowing what your neighbor’s is like.  Even easier to judge everyone else’s situation by your own circumstances. To say what you wouldn’t do in a scenario whose possibility is unfathomable in your reality. Stepping out of your privilege in into another person’s reality- even to briefly note by the grace of God go I- is an exercise most never partake in.

But some do-and it isn’t always perfect, and it isn’t always pretty. Not every lesson will be learned the first time. But if someone takes the initiative to meet me halfway, I’m going to do the same. Because we owe it to ourselves to utilize every teachable moment. Because while I’ve lived my life and can explain it better than anyone, sometimes it is better received from a different voice. Because silencing that voice simply because it doesn’t sound like mine does more harm than good. Because I am more afraid of what will happen when we stop discussing it at all.

Or maybe it is just because I believe every person that gains an ounce of understanding gets me closer to a day when I can walk out of my door and just…walk.