On Human Rights Day, I published a guest post by Rebecca Mott, who shared her views as a survivor of prostitution. The post is sobering in its critique of allyship and how we can hinder the healing and empowerment process of survivors. As someone who has been actively involved in working with survivors, it brought to light many concerns I had about how to express solidarity.
What does it mean to be an ally? Allyship is a distinctive form of solidarity. It is a form of embodied politics that requires you to look inside to change outside. It is different from advocacy and activism. Advocacy and activism are expressive forms of politics used to affect the external world. These forms of politics are more concerned with doing rather than being.
Allyship, on the other hand, imagines the struggle to be ‘in’ here as much as it is out ‘there’ within the public structures of institutions and discourse. To be an ally is as much about being as it is about doing. It requires you to fight an oppression whilst simultaneously situating yourself within that oppression and recognising how you contribute to that oppression. There is no way to be a ‘perfect ally’ but there are ways to be an ally.
Firstly, allyship must hurt. It must cost you relationships, opportunities, approval, acceptance. It is not enough to disrupt when it feels comfortable. If it feels ‘comfortable’ to disrupt then you are either reinforcing the status quo or speaking to those who are already aware of the oppression.
Secondly, being an ally must work towards a broader vision of the world. This is to say, your allyship tackles injustice with the view that you are working towards a redistributed share of power in the world. It can be easy to focus on the work of ending an injustice without thinking about what a world without that injustice actually looks like, and linking your present self to it. Having this in mind is an effective way of thinking about the most productive way to be in that struggle.
Allyship acknowledges that a world of equity and justice is not a sustainable one, if allies adopt the same norms and assumptions that cause the oppression. I don’t think working to end oppression using the same tools that perpetrators have used (i.e. silencing) will create the conditions for a world of equity and justice. This is pretty clear when it comes to working with people living in oppression but opinions diverge when we turn our attention towards people in power.
To be an ally is to recognise that change is not a binary outcome (a world with or without injustice) but a complex and messy process as we work to change what we have internalised and externalised in the world. The consequence of this complex and messy process is that allyship is never done, never over, as long as the oppression exists. It is an indefinite struggle to move with the oppressed and move against the oppression.
In the spirit of solidarity, I wanted to share a few resources that have expanded my views on allyship:
Can the Subaltern Speak?, Gayatri Spivak
I write what I like, Steve Biko
The Freedom of Real Apologies, Krista Tippett interviews Layli Long Soldier
Accomplices not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex, Indigenous Action
Looking forward to your reflections as always.