The people of Manchester break lockdown to join the global Black Lives Matter protests. Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash
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What are the downsides to Allyship? 

Without a doubt, Allyship is important for social and political momentum but also in normalising the acceptance and inclusion of marginalised groups. But are there downsides to Allyship?

Many of us have seen or read the myriad of articles that define what an ally is and how to be a good one. Allyship is highlighted as a necessary aspect of securing long-term change for marginalised groups. It is the bridge between restrictive social norms and universal freedoms. Allyship helps to hold and occupy space as the equality movement does the heavy lifting.

But there is a deeper conversation about how allyship manifests in problematic ways. Being ‘woke’ and a part of the cause is morphing into performative and profiteering activism that is often detrimental to the movement.

If you want to be a genuine ally or what some now term an accomplice, a person who is integral and complicit in a struggle towards liberation and does not only provide support or solidarity on a temporary or beneficial basis, then analyse your intentions and actions honestly.

Being ‘woke’ and a part of the cause is morphing into performative and profiteering activism that is often detrimental to the movement

If you find yourself making the struggle about yourself, thinking you somehow have a better understanding of someone else’s reality or profiting professionally, financially, or socially from your ‘allyship’ then you are the chaotic evil we are talking about.

Here are some of the ‘allies’ no one asked for:

The saviour ally. When being an ally becomes an identity

Sometimes, people say, “doing ally work” or “acting in solidarity with” to reference the fact that “ally” is not an identity and is rather an ongoing process that involves work. Recently however, there has been a growing shift to allyship as an identity or a thing to be, rather than a way to live.

This shift means allies are not only centering themselves in major conversations and efforts; some are also gaining a saviour complex that is rooted in the idea that they know best. It leads to unhelpful and oftentimes cumbersome ‘support’ that takes away from fundamental efforts. 

The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements have forced people in positions of power to acknowledge that they must personally step up to make institutions more fair and inclusive. Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash.

According to the Inclusion Solution, “When allyship becomes more about identity than action when it becomes more about saving than listening when it becomes more about titles than people, that’s where we draw the line.”

The lifestyle ally: When allies become appropriators

The appropriation of queer culture and social behaviour is nothing new. Some of the “queer slang” we know, and love today came from a troubled time in the community’s history. Popular slang words such as ‘shade’ were used within queer subcultures when the AIDS crisis, rampant racism, and transphobia were ravaging the community. Now it features in daily conversation without reverence for its originators or their identities.

Lifestyle allies are familiar with the jargon, seamlessly ‘share’ in the culture, and constantly overstep their privilege. Indigenous Action describes them as, “folks you can trust to tell the cops to “fuck off” but never engage in mutual risk, constantly put others at risk, are quick to be authoritarian about other peoples over stepping, but never check their own.”

The Industrial Ally: When allies profit from allyship

This is a touchy subject because it alludes to the idea that allies should be entirely selfless in their support which is in itself unrealistic. However, the premise is that although allies should not be expected to beggar themselves for the cause they should not take opportunities away from members of the community either.

“The industrial ally complex” has been established by activists whose careers depend on the “issues” they work to address. These people advance their careers off the struggles of the marginalised often under the guise of grassroots or community-based initiatives.

Career activism gets people paid huge salaries or facilitation fees for things like logistics and capacity building, as well as over-inflated grants for community support. It’s unfortunate but there’s money to be made in opportunistic allyship.

“Where struggle is a commodity, allyship is currency.”

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