Allyship has been lately, extremely performative. The Black Lives Matter movement, racism, police brutality gained huge attention and interest in the last weeks. Would I see it as genuine interest? Not sure.
Many companies took a stance openly on Black Lives Matter tinged with hypocrisy and self-interest. Most of the online caption of companies are risk-free and polished. ‘We’re constantly working on ways to support positive change and we’ll continue to give a voice to important conversations, today and always’ as stated by Asos on Instagram.
‘We are a brand for everyone. We want to use our platform to help support positive change’, another time positive change outlines by Primark.
Zara shares its stance for equality ‘We stand for equality’. ‘We stand in solidarity against racism and violence.
When members of our community hurt, we all hurt’, declared YouTube. All of sudden, many companies, startups, online magazines, wanted to help and amplify black voices.
Social media were flooded of posts, comments from companies and people, on how being a good ally, on systemic racism, on white privileges. It literally drained me. It reminds me of how much my voice as a black African identified as a cisgender woman is ignored.
During my lifetime, I address many topics such as racism, anti-blackness, tokenism, systemic racism and white privilege. However, I never felt listened, I never felt people were genuinely interested in what I have to say, debating and learning from each other.
I did feel offended and angry. Suddenly, black people became visible, people encourage donations to black organizations and support to black businesses. Exhaustion took control over my body and I had to avoid social media for a couple of days. I still avoid it to protect my energy. Performative allyship and allyship in general and are, toxic to me.
What does allyship mean?
Allyship can be defined as “members of dominant social groups who are working to end the system of oppression that gives them greater privilege and power based on their social group membership.”
“Allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people”. Several stages of allyship have been theorized by Keith E Edwards in the ‘Aspiring Ally Identity Model’.
The first model is ‘Aspiring Ally for Self-Interest’. Allies bring only their support to people they have a close relationship with, affected by systemic oppression. ‘Take for example the father of a Trans daughter who wants to be able to use the correct bathroom. Her father writes to the principal to try and work out a plan for his daughter. The father is not advocating for a large-scale change in the school or the school board’s policies. He is acting as an ally on behalf of his daughter for her needs because he loves her’.
The second phase is ‘Aspiring Ally for Altruism’. In this phase, allies begin to understand that their privileges are inherently based on their social status, race, gender and affect an entire social group at different levels, whether politically, economically, socially or psychologically. Even if a deconstruction of privilege occurs, the deconstruction is coupled with a sense of shame of these people over their privileges.
To alleviate this sense of shame and guilt, they tend to adopt a saving attitude, acting more as a savior towards a specific group under systemic oppression than as a true ally. ‘In this way, the Aspiring Ally Altruism fails to recognize that one “must speak with the oppressed without speaking for the oppressed” (Reason et al., 2005a, p. 1). The paternalistic nature of this altruism may lead to positive gains in the short term, but ultimately perpetuates the system of oppression by placing the aspiring ally in the role of exceptional helper to those who experience oppression.’
The last phase is ‘Ally For Social Justice’. ‘Accepting the reality and influence of systemic privilege, an Ally for Social Justice sees escaping, impeding, amending, redefining, and dismantling the system of oppression as a means of liberating the oppressor as well as the oppressed. Rather than being an ally to an individual the Ally for Social Justice is an ally to issues – such as classism, racism, or religious oppression (Kendall, 2012). An ally for social justice also sees the interconnectedness of forms of oppression supporting each other and recognizes the need to address intersecting forms of oppression (Bell & Griffin, 1997).’
So what is the issues? Allies often find themselves in the second phase, a phase in which they express their saviorism, which makes them focus on themselves and speak for others. They do not take part in dismantling the different systemic oppressions but they are part in relieving their guilt of their inactions and complicity in those oppressions.
Many allies, part of the dominant group, reproduce those systemic oppressions within their allyships, as they hold on their dominance and as the narratives are focused on their perspective.
This can be exemplified through queer allyship and how heteronormativity regains its influence. The nuclear family model regains the upper hand when many allies have focused or still focus on equality for marriage and parenthood for people part of the LGBTQIA+ community. The model of a monogamous couple seeking to marry or have children is much emphasized. ‘The movement itself seems to say that as long as the relationship can mirror a typical heterosexual relationship then it is worthy of all the privileges that come with the heterosexual relationship. The queer movement, however, began with the goal to overturn the entire system of sexual privilege, to begin with’.
Yes, allyship reproduces patterns of oppression
Many companies want to make their involvement in this systemic racism and racialization to be forgotten, such as Nivea who contributes many times to anti-blackness around the world but ‘stand’ with us. Examples like that I could cite many.
Many companies have not failed to take advantage of the Black Lives Matter movement to gain profit from political correctness. Black Lives Matter is becoming the new way to make money.
Observing all this in recent weeks, it has confirmed to me that through conformism, performative allyship, opportunism, these people are reproducing the different mechanisms of oppression.
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Aspiring Social Justice Ally Identity Development, Keith E. Edwards
Towards a Moral Conception of Allyship, Zachary Kincaid Tuggle, 08/2018