Day of Rest: on Being an Ally

On Friday, the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. My friend Steven, an 8th grade English teacher in my community who I first met while we were both in graduate school for the first time, (after receiving an M.A. in English Literature, he went back and earned an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership), posted this on Facebook,

On such a momentous day as today, I’d like to give heartfelt gratitude to all the straight allies out there. Statistically, 1 in 10 human beings are BORN gay or transsexual. Ten percent of this country has fought a long, grueling, even dangerous and deadly fight to have equal rights under the law. Yet more than 65% of the nation was in favor of marriage equality before today. That’s a lot of straight people raising the banner for love, hope, and decency. There’s a lot of joy in the gay community today . . . but we can never forget our straight friends who became family when our own families struggled, who shut down a gay joke in the workplace, who taught their children that love is not relegated to specific gender, who marched in parades, who voted for pro-marriage equality candidates, who took a stand, however small, to ensure that all of us are equal under the law. I appreciate you. Today is your celebration, too. Thank you, allies. Thank you.

I was so touched by what Steven wrote. After seeing a few other similar posts, including one from author Patti Digh in which she said, “Today, let’s agree to continue the work. Black churches are being burned, transgender men and women are being killed, and so many more acts of hatred driven by ignorance that has become fear. Let’s all do what we can, where we are, every day,” I started thinking about what it means to be an ally.

Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. ~Anne Bishop, Becoming An Ally

When we consider all that needs to change, all the things that have gone wrong, it can feel overwhelming. What do we do? Where do we even begin? I would like to suggest three things we can easily do to start to shift the tide: educate ourselves, practice compassion, and love harder.

To ground ourselves in the present moment of any issue, we can educate ourselves. Specifically, we can learn the history of a situation and get up to date with current events. Approach the situation with a beginner’s mind, assume that whatever you think you know, you don’t know. Even if you have a lived experience of the situation, take a closer look at the big picture, read and research, ask questions, attend lectures and rallys, etc. For example, there’s a really great project started by Chad Williams, Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University, called #charlestonsyllabus. It is

…a list of readings that educators can use to broach conversations in the classroom about the horrendous events that unfolded in Charleston, South Carolina on the evening of June 17, 2015. These readings provide valuable information about the history of racial violence in this country and contextualize the history of race relations in South Carolina and the United States in general. They also offer insights on race, racial identities, global white supremacy and black resistance.

In the face of any problem, of any kind of suffering or conflict, it is important to practice compassion. This doesn’t mean idiot compassion, being nice for the sake of being nice, or accepting aggression. True compassion is more like how Brendon Burchard describes “humanity,”

…seeing others and saying, “I wish you joy, love, health and abundance.” Not just to those you like or agree with. Every. Single. Person.

To be compassionate, we have to be willing to be with the pain of another. Susan Piver says, “Compassion is rooted in seeing others as similar to ourselves, in removing any and all ideas that there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ There is only us.” She goes on to say,

True compassion is a profound skill, one that has much more in common with fierceness than softness. Compassion arises when you allow someone else’s pain into your own heart without a personal agenda. This is what so many of us are terrified of doing, and understandably so. To view our “enemy” as part of the human family rather than a scourge to be obliterated means we have to take on their pain as our own and most of us are already full up on that score. Nonetheless, we must do it anyway. It requires fearlessness and and a sense of genuine power, and is not, as a few characterized it, some kind of lefty do-good politically correct emasculating bullshit.

My Facebook friend Mathew posted something similar,

The worst thing is when people try to relate to another persons trauma even when they both know that they have no idea what the experience is truly like. Just say it like it is… “I have no idea what it feels like, or how you are feeling BUT thank you for telling me and I’m here for you.” That is vulnerability and honesty at its very core.

President Obama gave the eulogy at the funeral for South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney. Towards the end, before he sang Amazing Grace (!!!), he talked about basic goodness and having an open heart, saying,

That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.” That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change.

Finally, to be a good ally, a good human, we have to love harder. This is my theory: if every human had one person in their life they loved, truly loved not just tolerated, who was “different,” any of the types of people we classify in that way, if every human had just one human like that in their life they really really loved they would never ever want anything less than all the things, all the happiness, everything for them. So, if you are against some measure of the human population because of who they are (religion, race, sexuality, etc.), it’s because you aren’t loving hard enough. Pick someone, anyone, and love them as hard as you can.

So to be an ally, we must educate ourselves, practice compassion, and love harder. That ought to keep us busy for a while, a good kind of busy.

8 thoughts on “Day of Rest: on Being an Ally

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      I’m glad, Rita. I was so tired by the time I wrote it yesterday, but it had been tugging at me and I needed to write something, even if it wasn’t the best thing I’d ever written.


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