First: They Value Differences and Rather than Suggest they be Erased
Genuine allies know that when people claim their differences within the social hierarchy of “white male heterosexual able-bodied” power, such as an Indigenous person or a person of colour, within the context of challenging the oppressive power structure, that this should not be perceived and argued as being divisive and thus disruptive to the larger goal and needed solidarity. Genuine allies know we are only humans within relationships of good social mirroring and affirmation of who we are and how we feel. This includes recognizing our differences with the context of a common goal rather than erasing them.
When someone sitting closer to the top of the social hierarchy argues or suggests we need to forget about our differences in our collective process of challenging oppressive power, this serves to deny and disenfranchise people of difference and is yet another form of oppression. Further, this position of erasure and denial interferes with potential allies coming together as one entity, and it is therefore counter-productive to the needed and desired goal of solidarity. Think about it this idea that people can only unite based on sameness is just not so. Genuine allies know that they need to value differences rather than suggest there is the need to erase them.
That said of course there are white heterosexual able-bodied men oppressed by the current social hierarchy of society. I am sorry if you feel disenfranchised by that construct of “white male heterosexual able-bodied.” Keep in mind that no construct a human creates has universal application.
Second: They Respect the Exhausting Energy of Structural Oppression
I have found that some people who live closer to the top of the social hierarchy and who thus embody and live with more privilege, are unable to critically think about and thus really appreciate the incredible amount of intra-psychic energy required for a less privileged person to navigate the structural and institutional oppression inherent in our society.
For example, an Indigenous person or person of colour is forced to dedicate a large quantity of their consciousness navigating structures and institutions built primarily by white people with white people in mind. This is similar to women’s situation, in particular Indigenous women and women of colour – again they are forced to dedicate an additional large quantity of their consciousness to navigating the oppressive structures and institutions built primarily by white men for white men. Further, persons with disabilities are forced to dedicate yet even more intra-psychic energy to the process of navigating structures and institutions built primarily by able-bodied white men for able-bodied white men. Of course the same can be said for all people who exist outside the heterosexual normative as well as transgendered people.
I have observed that more often than not what more privileged people do in their need and desire for allies of a particular cause is request, demand, and plea to be taught the knowledge of structural and institutional oppression from the very people who are more oppressed and who thus embody the knowledge of oppression. These more privileged people realize that it is the more oppressed people who hold much of the knowledge that will free them from the master narrative that is imposing on them. These more privileged people demand this knowledge when they want it and on their terms, rather than value and respect the incredible amount of stress the more oppressed person embodies.
Living with privilege is when your consciousness and intra-physic energy is dedicated to you and your needs, and this includes your demands on people who are less privileged to teach you what you need to know in your process of re-gaining your humanity.
Dr. Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process, and recently published a book titled Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com
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