Many of us have been informally enrolled in at least one Ally Education course. Maybe it was a Facebook group. Maybe it was questioning your Token Marginalized Friend. We have been wrestling with the failings of our good intentions. We have asked and answered questions on cultural appropriation and default pronouns. We have pushed buttons; we have hurt feelings; we have gotten our feelings hurt.
The best way to learn, they say, is through one-on-one interactions, through conversation, through feedback.
The premise of Ally Education is that society trains each of us to be an oppressor, and this can only be undone with hard work. We are trained to be ignorant, and to feel deserving of unearned privilege. For most of us, our standard education and consumption of popular culture leaves us unable to truly value and honor the humanity of marginalized groups. Our society leaves us feeling insecure, so that we can’t risk being wrong and giving up a privilege that maybe was truly ours. Ally Education, then, is the purported antidote. It is supposed to bring us out of our oppressive views, to show us the impact of our innocence. We learn that our words do matter; we learn that our clothes do matter; we learn how we alienate others by not knowing their stories and their struggles. It is said (not by me) that we need allies, that waking people up is necessary to fight oppression. And so we justify the endless exhaustion of precious human resources.
Those days are over.
Maybe you didn’t see it on the syllabus, but the United States had a pretty major exam on November 8th, and guess what. We failed. The exam was fairly simple. Stop a racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist, transphobic, Islamaphobic, egotistical demagogue from being elected President. It was simple, yet we didn’t know it would be so hard.
Maybe it wasn’t clear on the syllabus, but this was actually the Final Exam. The election of Donald Trump, open bigot, to the presidency means that your Ally Education class is now over. There were no A’s. There was no curve. There will be no pats on the back for being 88th percentile anti-racist in a country that has just become even less safe for people of color. There will be no pats on the back for being 90th percentile LGBTQ+ ally in a country that may be on the verge of stripping that community of their rights and (re)validating inhumane notions of gender and sexuality.
This is how education works. You take a class, you learn relatively little, and then the class ends. Maybe you still have questions. Maybe you didn’t like the grade you got. Doesn’t matter. You will just have to work it out on your own. Learn on the job.
On January 20, 2017, we will graduate into the real world where it will be open season on basic human rights. Marginalized people of all walks of life will be wondering how long until their continued existence here is deemed “illegal.” They officially have better things to do than educate allies.
If we are truly allies, now is the time for us to work.
As it turns out, we don’t actually need to understand everything. All around you, you will find people faking some aspect of their job. Most learning comes from experience, not formal education. From now on, if you want to know “Is this oppressive?” just go ahead and assume the answer is yes. Remember, a white person who decides everything they do is racist, is still better off than if they were a person of color. From now on, if a marginalized person tells you their truth, just shut up and accept it. We should not hold our support hostage while we wait for marginalized people to prove things to our satisfaction. It was never okay, but now that class is over, there is no excuse.
The only question you should be worrying about is: What can I do to protect all of us from a Trump executive branch, from a Republican controlled Congress, and from the emboldened racists and bigots who require the open oppression of marginalized people in order to truly feel safe and at home?
Get to work.