by Mia McKenzie
If you’re a marginalized person who’s involved in activist work, or who spends a lot of time on social media, or both, you almost certainly deal with a lot of so-called “allies” whose idea of “allyship” is so convoluted you’d rather just do without it.
From white fragility to cis fuckery, from “I’m on your side, so you should be nicer ” to “educate me!”, “allyship” has become more pointless performance than anything actually useful to marginalized people. That’s why I’ve long since stopped using the word at all, except in snarky quotation marks.
A couple of months ago, BGD columnist and editor Princess Harmony Rodriguez coined the term “ally theater” in a piece criticizing the way that so-called “allies” perform on social media. What Harmony highlights in that piece is but a fraction of the theatrics we see so-called “allies” performing every day.
Just a few days ago on Twitter, I was tweeting about criticism of the #Zola story and how my distrust of white women influences my view of innocence and villainy. Having experienced so much violence from white women over the years, I’m skeptical of anything that paints a white woman as the innocent victim and a black woman as the villain. Because my experience is that white women can do ANYTHING to us and still be seen as the victim and us as the villain. I don’t trust white women. And I tweeted exactly that.
And, wouldn’t you know it, an “ally” chimed in.
Okay, first of all: what I said wasn’t for her. Newsflash: not everything a black person says about their life is for your consumption and feedback, non-black people.
Secondly, this is exactly what we mean when we talk about ally theater. What is this woman’s response meant to convey, really? How is it in any way useful?
Spoiler alert: it’s not. It’s no more than a thinly-veiled “I’m not like other white people” wrapped up in “your pain is interesting reading material, thanks!”
This woman’s need to take up space in some way, any way, her need to perform allyship, publicly, so everyone can see how “good” she is, how different she is, is so overwhelming that, seeing my tweets, she can’t bring herself to just shut up. It should be obvious that the very last person I want to hear from in that moment is a random ass white woman. I just tweeted about the significant pain and harm white women have caused me and this woman’s response is “thanks for saying that.”
Girl, if you don’t GTFOH.
And she’s certainly not alone. A LOT of people do this. A LOT of people perform “allyship” in ways that are actually really harmful. This, folks, is ally theater. And there is a big difference between it and real solidarity. Lots of differences, really. Here are a few that I experience regularly: