Updated: May 21, 2020
For those most privileged persons relying on others to teach them how to do and be better and discover what it means to be an ally... (this applies to a great many of us across a wide variety of identities.)
With love, here’s some essential 101:
Engage in an ongoing process of relentless introspection to better understand your place in the world, its impact on others, how deep your social/material/psychological investments in the privilege you experience are, how your safety constructs are rooted in others’ oppression. Just do it. Self teach.
Learn from observing how some (if not many) of your ways of being in this world perpetuate harm, and how others with similar identity constructs often do the same in subtle and overt ways. Deal with the pain that comes from realizing that you are someone who has and does derive benefit from others’ oppression and how, systemically, you are incentivized to do so.
Do not come to those traditionally marginalized asking how you can learn if we’re not willing to teach you. Imagine - the privilege to assume someone owes you a lesson in aspiring toward less harm... to them. Imagine - the privilege to assume you’re owed any teacher in this life. That until you have one, you are perhaps free to sit back and let shit roll. Do you see how feigning helplessness is in and of itself an act of violence?
How did we learn? We had no model, no systemic support system; in so many cases could not see a star bright enough to guide us out of the darkness we navigate in this world and in most of those cases it was because the stars were being intentionally blocked from our view if our eyes weren’t outright being plucked out.
How did we learn with no one to teach us, with people and systems actively hindering our ability to learn? We looked to ourselves. We looked to each other. We built a ladder inside our own selves and communities tall enough to see the starshine - only to discover our own faces and bodies and Earth glowing back at us. We have never had the privilege, the time, the space to wait for some messiah to arrive and awaken us from our slumber. In fact, when have we ever been granted such peaceful, blissful, ignorant rest?
Do not approach a person who has fought tirelessly to exist safely in the very world that was built expressly for your success at the cost of their safety, and from your mumbling slumber apply to them the burden of helping you rise from your king sized, sun-drenched, memory foam bed.
Look at yourself. Scrutinize your most micro interactions and internal narratives, and see how they fuel and perpetuate the macro paradigm. Work tirelessly to identify the parts of yourself that are invested in perpetuating oppression in this world and pull them out of yourself, tend to them constantly like weeds in a garden, day by day, moment by moment, until you realize a new version of yourself such that the world around you begins to transform. And, all the while, process the pain that accompanies what you discover inside yourself, the world, and the systems the world’s most privileged operate on - use it as fuel to inspire your continued work.
You are responsible for nothing less, and nobody owes you a damn thing. Nobody but you is responsible for your learning, and if someone else’s life and love generously graces you such that you may glean some learning from them, be damn grateful for the glory of sustenance coming from another’s hard work - and then get back to your own work.
Engaging with someone else’s work does not absolve you from the imperative of doing your own. It can point you toward your work but it cannot do it for you. Read the books, go to the talks, watch the videos, retweet the influencers...
But don’t you dare confuse someone else’s learnings and insight for your own enlightenment, latch your burden onto them, claim you can’t do it without them, become their dependent, an extra weight for them to carry because, what? Given all they’ve carried thus far, surely they’re strong enough to carry your limp, sleeping body too?
Repost this if it’s helpful, but don’t mistake that for activism or the work you are responsible for.
Don’t you dare. Get to work.