No one ever taught us how to get along in a coalition that is so diverse that it includes people who could just as easily be political rivals as they are potential allies. The Big Tent concept is noble. However, without any instruction on how we could co-exist for mutual benefit, the fierce infighting that we’ve seen over the years was not only inevitable but also necessary.
I don’t purport to have all of the answers, so this is nothing close to a comprehensive list. But I think this is a decent starting point on how we can all become better allies to each other. If you feel like I missed anything, I know you’ll inform me in the comment section.
1. Never dismiss the experiences or the plight of your allies:
I never believed that cat-calling was a big deal. I thought that because I never saw it firsthand and was never guilty of it, women were simply exaggerating. As serendipity would have it, the same day yet another Progressive informed me that I was overly-dramatic about racism, I also witnessed how quickly a man on the subway went from being civilized to being a barbarian.
Even if you’re not guilty of or never witnessed what an ally is telling you they have experienced, listen to them. More happens in the world than that for which your experiences could ever account. Dismissing someone else’s experiences is something that Conservatives do on a daily basis. It hurts so much more when it comes from would-be allies.
Unless you’ve struggled with the pain of being X, never presume to be able to tell X what it’s like being X in America. This is where the unspoken rule of Black Twitter is so valuable: Don’t lecture; listen. Listen so that you can learn and listen so that you can understand.
2. Acknowledge the agency of every ally:
We all have our own narratives, backstories, plots, twists, heroes and arch nemeses. Every ally has their story in which they are the complete focus and center of attention. Recognizing the agency of an ally means you are willing to not make their story about you, your fears, expectations, or even your advice.
When we come together, it does not and should not require that anyone’s narrative be pushed into the background. It merely requires the ability to listen the varying experiences are woven together by the common enemy that threatens us all.
When the narrative shifts to one that directly affects an ally, support them. You are the hero of your story but the side-kick of theirs.
Our egos must be flexible enough to be fierce on the pages of our personal narratives and set aside on the pages of our ally. And when we assemble to fight against the true enemy that conservatism has made itself, we can stand boldly as individuals and fight side-by-side as equals. Only then will the sum be greater than the parts.
3. Acknowledge your own privilege:
Everyone experiences privilege in some way. That privilege often crashes into the intersection of a would-be ally. If you cannot recognize your privilege then you are destined to hurt, offend, and betray the very people you call “ally.” Privilege doesn’t mean you have it easy in America or that you do not face your own adversity. Privilege simply means that there are some issues that you never had to consider.
For example: As a black, cisgender, heterosexual, Christian male, I have challenges but I also have a fair share of privilege. I never have to consider what its like to be gay in America. I never have to consider what it is like to be an atheist in a country so obsessed with a particular brand of Christianity. I never have to consider what it’s like to be a woman. As much as I get weary with systemic racism, I still recognize that I have privilege.
We all have privilege and we simply need to identify it and understand that our allies do not all have that luxury.