When we consider minorities outside of ourselves, we may be tempted to divide and conquer. You handle your business, and I’ll handle mine. I am a white lesbian, so I’ll focus my energy on lesbian rights and white feminism. As for the “other others”? They can fight their battles, and I’ll fight mine. Maybe I’ll even send some good vibes to #BlackLivesMatter or avoid using the “r” word in solidarity with those who have different levels of ableness. That would be nice of me, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not enough.
When we look at the world through the lens of our lesbianism, we can’t discount the importance of allyship. While I understand the nuances associated with the term “ally”–some positive, others highly problematic–I believe there is a right way to be an ally. And we must determine how to accomplish this brand of allyship–in actionable solidarity with all minority communities. Isn’t this no different than the expectations we place upon our heterosexual loved ones? We want for them to stand up for us, often when we cannot stand up for ourselves. We want for them to educate themselves on heterosexual privilege and use their knowledge to educate and inform others. If we expect this from our straight friends, how can we expect anything less of ourselves?
One of the primary reasons, if not the primary reason that we have no choice but to engage in a broader fight for social justice is that equality serves us all. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, “The rising tide of equality lifts all boats,” but I have yet to find a sentiment that better fits this argument. As we watch in horror as dangerous bills are passed in states such as North Carolina–bills which further push trans people to the margins of our society–we must open our eyes to the far-reaching effects of these setbacks. I am not trans, but I know in my soul that laws that endorse and legalize bigotry are poisonous to our communities. They fuel and empower hatred, which will inevitably affect me. That’s what hate does; it is a cancer that slowly, yet powerfully, overtakes everything and everyone.
images via Getty
When we think of ways in which we can support and serve as allies for other minority communities, I’m not sure there’s one formula or a step by step list on how to manage this appropriately. In my own personal experience, I’ve learned that we cannot move into supporting marginalized groups outside of ourselves until we acknowledge the sameness in our struggles. I’ve found that, when I push myself to see the commonalities amongst the obstacles I’ve experienced as a result of my gender or my sexuality and those of other minority communities, there are often more than I realize. I have heard countless stories of mothers of black children–especially young men–who prepare their children from an early age on how to respond to police. In the interest of the child’s safety, they are often taught to avoid anger and simply comply with directives, regardless of whether officers are handling the situation appropriately, or the accusations are founded.
This was a foreign concept to me until I met my wife. While she is a law abiding business owner who served in the military, she is also masculine in appearance and heavily tattooed. To some, this translates to “suspicious” or even criminal. I, too, have had to train her on how to deal with the police as I’m not interested in being a widow at the hands of police brutality. Recently, she was pulled over in a remote area on the way to visit her sick grandmother. As the routine goes, she called me immediately, informed me she was being pulled over and set down the phone leaving it on speaker so I could monitor the interaction. I listened as the officer repeatedly questioned her on her alleged marijuana use and accused her of smoking marijuana in her car, for no apparent reason. I can testify to the fact that no one has ever smoked marijuana in her car. She was not intoxicated in any way nor was she displaying signs of intoxication, for which I can vouch as I spoke to her on the phone as she was getting pulled over. I felt scared and angry that a perfect stranger would make all of these assumptions about the person I love most in the world–a person I know to be good and honest with more integrity than anyone I’ve ever met. At that moment, in some small way, I understood how parents of black children must feel–every second their child is out of sight.
I don’t share this story to suggest that I have the slightest idea what it feels like to be the mother of black children; constantly worrying about their safety as young black men all over the country are being killed at the hands of the very people paid to serve them. I share because, on some level, I get it. I share because this is one tiny example of how we, as minorities, are connected.