by Princess Harmony Rodriguez
We’ve all experienced it at one point or another: a “friend” comes up to us to let us know about the latest lies being told about us. We don’t ask to know about it, we don’t want to hear about it, yet people – almost as if they delight in it – feel the need to tell us all about what they’ve heard.
Some people practice “solidarity” in that way. Except instead of telling us about the latest gossip and rumors about us, they’re turning “allyship” and “support” into a grand spectacle. In order to get ally cookies, they’ll post up material on their social media pages that is violent and oppressive, in order to “call it out”. They forget that the violent and oppressive material is triggering and deeply unsettling to the people targeted by it. Make no mistake—it’s good that people will stand up to call out other people’s bullshit—but there is a right way to do it. Exposing more people to unrelenting violence is completely the wrong way.
Such was the case with Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out. Twitter was abuzz with excitement, support, anger, and incredulity over Caitlyn Jenner coming out on the cover of Vanity Fair. For some, it was an occasion to celebrate. Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance marked a milestone for (white) trans people. I’m sure it was a liberating time for her and for those who feel represented because of her.
For others, it was an occasion to demonstrate how trash they are. If it wasn’t your run of the mill violent transmisogynistic shitposting, it was #fakedeep Twitter attempting (and failing) to make a point with comments like “if [Caitlyn] were black…” when they themselves mistreat black trans women on Twitter on a daily basis or “you care about this but what about [some other subject that’s been tweeted about 10,000 times]?”
Well-meaning people called out their cis brethren on their bullshit, usually via Twitter’s new quote system, thereby exposing trans people using Twitter to these violent, vile, and transmisogynistic tweets by the hundreds. While other, not well-meaning people, used the quote system to get cookies and pat themselves on the back (and get others to pat them on the back) for a job well done, since now they can display violent tweets in full, complete with a saccharine call out for extra points.
“Harmony! Any kind of support is good support! Right?” is what you’re probably thinking to yourself right now. You’d be wrong.
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If someone came running to me, an oppressed person, to let me know about every single time something violent toward my people happened, that would be an act of violence in itself. Repeatedly showing me how much I, personally or as part of an oppressed class, am despised, detested, and reviled for being who I am is a form of mental and emotional violence.
What’s the goal of this violence if it comes from people who claim to be supportive? (Or even if it comes from people who are otherwise truly and genuinely supportive?)
The goal is, for some, to perform ‘ally theater’. The performance, played out on social media for all to see, gets you kudos, likes, faves, shares, and even career opportunities (a la Charles Clymer and many others).
For others, there is no goal; it’s an unconscious action that their privilege blinds them from recognizing as violent.
While neither one is okay, at least the people who are unaware that they’re being violent aren’t doing it purposely. Those people can easily be told that what they’re doing hurts people and they shouldn’t share oppressive material (or that they should share it with trigger warnings preceding it) while calling its creator(s) out.
However, the people who are doing it with the sole intent of getting a pat on the head and a treat are dangerous. “Allies” who perform theater for a reward (real or imagined) do damage to the communities they’re supposed to be allied with.
The disgusting tweets, quotes, and memes do damage to the groups they target because that is what is intended. It’s a very calculated attack on the mind and emotions of oppressed people, meant to dehumanize and demoralize us. By itself, it’s harmful. When it’s reposted or repeated, even in the name of publicly calling out its poster, it becomes even more harmful, especially because it’s usually done with the purpose of painting the reposter as an “ally” for calling it out.
People who do this will run into people’s mentions, DMs, Facebook inboxes and timelines, or even up into their face in order to say, “LOOK!! LOOK HOW DISGUSTING AND OPPRESSIVE AND VIOLENT THIS IS! THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT YOU BUT I’M TELLING THEM TO STOP!!!!!” without so much as a thought as to the harm they’re doing. They obviously know that the material is abusive, but they never stop to think about the effect it can have when they force it in front of those who were targeted by it. In many cases, we would never even have seen the random, abusive tweet or meme in question if not for some “ally” forcing us to look at it in the name of “solidarity”.
In the end, this violence of the so-called “ally” and the violence of the original poster are the same. The former’s selfish desire to be recognized as an “ally” or an “activist”, or some other title or identity they’ve sought to fashion for themselves, is more important to them than the people they’re harming, and the effect is no different from that of the intentional abuse of the original poster.
There is only one kind of true solidarity: the kind that seeks to support and heal. A “solidarity” that is twisted, warped, and perverted into cookie-seeking at the expense of the well-being of marginalized people isn’t solidarity at all.
Practice real solidarity. Don’t retraumatize people with violent material and call it “allyship”.
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Princess is an afro-latin trans woman, survivor of childhood and adult sexual violence, creator, otaku, and anti-violence activist. Her writing has been published on The Feminist Wire, Feministing, Black Girl Dangerous, Know Your IX, and FeministaJones.com.