The Trouble With Allies

A few years ago there was a huge earthquake in Haiti. Buildings crumbled, clean water was hard to come by and people were really struggling. And so people in richer countries sent clothes and toys to those in need, out of the goodness of their hearts. Really nice, right?

Well, not really. For one thing, kids in a disaster don’t need teddy bears to hug. They need clean water and food. Most countries around the world have access to clothes (yes, even after natural disasters), and the clothes that were sent were either inappropriate for the climate (tropical people don’t need winter jackets) or poor quality. It also slowed down the actual relief process – planes bringing essential supplies were bogged down or couldn’t land. People’s hearts were in the right place, but their common sense, and therefore wallets, were not. So their help was more of a hindrance. See what I’m getting at?

There’s been a lot of protesting lately. This is great, the people have a right to make their voices heard, and I love a snazzy protest sign or two. But it can be hard to see where protestors are helping the disenfranchised, especially when the protestors are not the disenfranchised people themselves. I mean, I know that their hearts are in the right place, but I wondered about their post-protest actions. Marching is an all-day affair; oppression spans generations. So I guess the question is, how does one be an ally every day?

I’ve come across two schools of thoughts with regards to allies. The first is that the oppressors should help the people who have less privilege than them, and the second being that the oppressed need to help themselves, and the oppressors need to check themselves. I’ve seen this in Facebook arguments and on blogposts and in real life, and it actually kind of amuses me in a sad sense. I mean, people who think that being an ally means that they should help at all costs are so… earnest. Their placards are so glittery, their voices are so loud, their selfies so full of hope. And if I’m honest, I personally appreciate the support. With a little guidance, I think there’s real potential there.

But the thing about privilege is that it doesn’t just go away because you want it to. And when you’re more likely to be heard than the oppressed, you run a real risk of overstepping your place and the people who need to be heard continue to be ignored. I’m a firm believer in checking your own people, and I try my best to do that. I’m a heterosexual cis woman, and that is a privilege in itself, so I try to point out things that other cishet people say that may be harmful. I cannot speak as an LGBT+ person, but I can listen to them and relay the message to those who are hard of hearing. Similarly, as a black woman, I don’t necessarily need a white person talking above me, but it’d be really helpful if said white person turned to her racist uncle and said “hey actually that’s really harmful thinking, can you not?” They’ll get it a lot faster if they hear it from someone like them.

Let Uncle Chad know!

I think a lot of allies get really hurt when they get told that they’re not being helpful. Like the charity organisations, it’s quite hard to tell someone who’s just “trying to be nice” that niceness doesn’t fill bellies or fix problems. Just like how you can’t fix earthquakes with a teddy bear, you can’t fix oppression with earnestness. It’s tiresome having to deal with other people’s hurt feelings on top of the actual problems that need addressing, and allies need to learn to check themselves before their feelings take over the actual task at hand. It’s an ongoing struggle but it’s a worthwhile one too.

Change is slow, but it’s effective when we all work together. The wonderful thing about allies is that they’re born with a megaphone in their hand. They  just need to figure out which way to point it.

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In Defence of Celebrities

I used to hate Kim Kardashian. I don’t often hate people, but edgy teenage me hated her with a passion. “Why on earth is she famous? She does NOTHING. OMG SHE’S EVERYWHERE. SHE ISN’T EVEN THAT PRETTY. AND HER FAMILY OMG WHYEVENISSHEFAMOUSICAN’TBELIEVE-”

You know what changed that stream of vitriol? Netflix.

Once I had access to something that I could easily watch for 24hrs, I realised how easy it was to not see Kim K and her Klan of Karacters. And then it occurred to me that in reality, she’s a woman trying to live her life. We’re not all that different, she has a family that is crazy but loves her, just like I do. She has a nice butt, so do I. She likes shopping, so do I. She just has a lot more money than I do and a camera on her when she shops (Kim, you should get Amazon Prime. Stepping over paparazzi to get to the fitting room must be pretty tiring.)

From then on I stopped hating on celebrities just cuz they’re famous. At the end of the day they are people doing a job, and while I can certainly side-eye something specific they’ve said or done, I’ve started to think of them the same way I would think about anyone. It can be a little hard to do that when they’re so absurdly rich and doing things so different to what you’re doing, so I’ve found that an easy way to stay empathetic when seeing a headline is to remove all identifying factors that shows that a celebrity is involved. For example: “Man declines job based on differing principles between himself and another man” is a little less polarizing than “Ewan McGregor snubs Good Morning Britain interview following Piers Morgan row“. After all, most people can agree that if you afford to maintain your principles, then you should, right?

The thing is, even if you disagree with someone quitting on principle, I can accept that. What I find difficult to accept  is when people say “Oh they should just shut up and do their jobs.” I mean… they’re entitled to an opinion too. Just because they have a bigger platform than you and your 250 facebook friends, doesn’t mean that they aren’t free to express ideas and opinions, and in some cases they’re in an even better place to express them than we are! I have my opinions on politics in America, but I don’t live there, and can’t vote there. If Meryl Streep, who is an American citizen, has had 4 children who are American citizens and lives in America wants to comment on America, then who am I (British Caribbean living in London) to grumble? It’s not like she stopped in the middle of The Devil Wears Prada to deliver a speech. And if it really bothers you that someone cares enough about something to talk about it, then maybe the issue is with you, not with them.

Something that horrifies me is when people take time out of their day to wish ill on someone just because they’re famous. Last year, armed thieves broke into a woman’s hotel room, tied her up, hurt her and stole her things, and apparently she deserved it because she’s Kim Kardashian. She must have been traumatised, she went low profile, her husband dropped what he was doing to go to her, and yet it serves her right. Really? She is a human being. Disapprove of her moneymaking methods but no one deserves to be held at gunpoint , tied up and robbed. Like I said before, she’s a woman like me. She’s a human being. She’s a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife. Surely a little empathy is deserved?

In other celebrity news, a man recently found out his son has cancer, but people asked why should we care just because he’s Michael Buble. I don’t think the point is to care about his kid more just because he’s famous, I think the point is to show a little sympathy for someone who found out that their loved one is suffering from a life-threatening illness. People who say “Oh well this happens to normal people all the time, why should we care more???” are the worst. I doubt many of those people regularly give to charities, or regularly sign petitions or march or are activists or fundraisers, yet when a celebrity story comes along they all of a sudden demand to know why people care about this person when there are starving children in Africa to care about. Instead of expending energy on social media attempting to silence people with your false moral high ground, have you done something to help the social ills of the world you’re using as a weapon in this argument? Because if you’re only bringing up other people suffering in the comment section of a Buzzfeed article, then you’re not actually helping anyone.

It is perfectly possible to care for celebrities and for the rest of the world. But if you really don’t care about pop culture, then that’s ok too, providing you 1) actually care about something and 2) don’t bash people for caring about pop culture. As someone who is looking forward to more Destiny’s Children being born (Red Rose and Yellow Sunflower FTW), I’m also pretty invested in the rest of the world.  So before you post that meme, or write that comment, or tweet that tweet, maybe consider saving your energy and expend it to somewhere useful. Here, I’ll start you off.

Give a little, folks

LGBTQ-I-Slay

Did I ever tell you about the first time I heard the word Lesbian? No? Ok storytime.

I came home after summer camp one day and went to my parents, who seemed to know every word and would answer any question: “Mum, Dad, what’s a lesbian?”

My dad, who, despite his religious tendencies (or lack thereof) was still in many ways a conservative Caribbean man, bristled. “Listen here young lady-“.

But my mum interrupted him. “Why do you want to know?”

“A boy was troubling my friend, so I told him to go away because she doesn’t like him and he called us lesbians.” My parents looked at each other.

“Bring the dictionary and look it up. Tell us what you’ve read.”

So I looked it up, read it out and then asked “What, like how men and women get married?” My parents nodded. “Oh ok. Well I’m not one, but I’d rather marry my friend than that boy, he’s annoying… Oh by the way, what’s a male chauvinist pig?”

Biting the inside of their cheeks, they spelled it out to me as I looked it up. “Why do you want to know?”

“Because that’s what I called him after he called me a lesbian.”

Even as a kid, I took a take-no-prisoners approach to ignorance.

The first time I remember actually meeting a lesbian was not too long after that. A brilliant spoken word poet named Staceyann Chin visited St Lucia, and my mum, in her mysterious ways, scored two free tickets to watch her perform. I do not remember much of what she said (I think the word nipple was used, which made me giggle because hey, I was 10), but I do remember a pause between her poems when she looked out at the audience, her face lovely and humorous yet there was a shade of sadness to it I hadn’t noticed before. “You know, I can perform my poems all over the world, I can even perform my poems the next island over, but I cannot perform them in my own home country because of fear.”

I am, as far as I know, a heterosexual woman. I say “as far as I know” because I’m keeping myself open for Beyonce should she come my way, and because I might one day meet a woman that changes my view on my own sexuality. I am in a relationship now, but who’s to say that I won’t end up with someone different to while away my twilight years and who’s to say that the someone else won’t be a woman? We are prettier and smell nicer. Sorry, current boyfriend. I like your smell. Smells like clean linen and testosterone. But if Beyonce came up to either of us and asked for a concubine, the deal was we’d leave each other for her. It is what it is.

My body is ready, B

But growing up in a culture that justified homophobia with religion always perplexed me. I always used to wonder if I had missed something growing up agnostic, for I was told that God was love and Jesus died for all our sins and we were to treat others as we would like to be treated, and that’s why I should renounce my heathen ways and join the fold. Yet being gay was seen as an abomination, a great sin that condemned people to Hell. This made no sense to me, especially when I took the ambitious step to read the Bible cover to cover and discovered about 600 sins ranging from “do not covet thy neighbour’s wife” (fair enough) to “do not eat shellfish” (Lobster is incredible and if you live on an island that’s crawling with crabs and crayfish, it would be impractical not to eat them). As far as I could ascertain, God was meant to be love. But then I suppose just because God is love doesn’t mean his people are going to be.

This is something on a list of things that I think people of colour and feminists need to work on. We know what it’s like to be considered less because of something we cannot change, and any heterosexual person should be able to say that they were born liking the opposite sex. It’s not a great stretch to say that homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, all the letters of the rainbow, are traits that people can be born with as well. Where is our compassion? Why do LGBT+ children continue to become estranged from their families for living life the way they were born to, often becoming homeless in the process? How do we not recoil in horror whenever a music-maker of our culture sings about violence against “batty boys”? How do we justify doing unto others what we would not do unto ourselves?

I for one am proud to say I am an ally. I support the LGBT+ community not just because I have loved ones who are a part of it but because we are all humans just trying to get by on this rock speeding through the universe. We deserve to live and thrive regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, belief system or nationality. This year I am challenging everyone who’s thrown a proverbial stone in the name of homophobia to look at their own sins before doing so. Homosexuality isn’t a sin, but your judgemental ass is (Matthew 7:12).

It’s a big enough planet for all of us to be fabulous and slay all day. Thus it is written in the name of Godney, the Holy Spearit. Gaymen.