This is my starting point for a rough guide. It’s not the end, and I’d very much appreciate feedback in comments on how to make it better. I still have a lot to learn.
Why should I be a good ally?
Because ultimately aren’t we, you and I and lots of other people, in politics to make things better, not worse? We may all disagree about the things, and the better, and the worse, but when we are largely in agreement on those wouldn’t it be a good idea to be nice to other people who are trying to go on the same journey as you, and not just when it is convenient?
Being a good ally is bread-and-butter politics. Hell, it’s bread-and-butter being a good human being.
How to be a good ally – some suggestions
1. Stop making jokes that are based on making fun of people with less power.
Non-exhaustive list of types of jokes that really aren’t funny for the subjects or allies: rape jokes, racist jokes, wheelchair jokes, Irish jokes, ginga jokes, “so gay” jokes. There are heaps of excellent posts out there on this, and Google is your friend.
Taking a small step: Stop making such jokes on the internet in front of strangers (eg in blogs, on twitter). You’ll find you make new friends as a result.
2. When someone you respect, even just a little, tells you to check your privilege you should listen.
They may not actually say “check your privilege”. They may say “hey that was uncool,” or “I don’t think that’s helping”, or “not funny dude,” or “FFS.” If you are face to face then body language is a good clue.
I’m constantly having to do this because in a lot of ways I have privilege (which I struggle to spell correctly) coming out the wahzoo, and most of the time there’s something for me to learn when someone tells me to check it. Personal growth is A Good Thing.
Taking a small step: Resist instantly being defensive if someone criticises your action/opinion/blog post. There may be something to gain from a measured consideration of what they have said. Take some time.
3. Respect the integrity of other people’s information and the stories they have shared; their lived experience is not yours.
Please don’t tell people that their actual life experiences, things that happened to them are not true. We saw this with Paula Bennett recently, who immediately went to the Not True place when stories circulated of beneficiaries being denied tampons.
It is entirely possible for someone’s life experience to be true, searingly bleakly true, whilst not indicative of the norm. If anything it’s those stories that are the exception that often need to be listened to more carefully, because often those are the experiences of the least powerful, and so rarely heard. We quash them to the detriment of all.
Taking a small step: Assume there is at least a grain of truth in every life experience you read or hear. Being open-hearted about this stuff can mean you learn amazing things.
4. Multi-tasking is A Thing.
I don’t know how many times I have had to say this; we, as a left-wing movement, can do more than one thing at once, do more than one campaign at a time, put forward policy on more than one issue.
This means that when those pesky feminists put forward their wacky ideas about how people should be able to determine whether or not they continue to have an embryo or fetus in their uterus that’s ok because we can do more than one thing at a time and obviously that’s important to them and I do agree with their point and oh gosh why was this a threat again, I can’t remember, yay go pro-choice!
Being a good ally means supporting your peeps. It may not be an important cause to you right now, but don’t shit on your friend’s doorstep by publicly telling them off on the interwebs. Not least because the other side like to seize on any of that stuff and use it to further feed the myth that the left is full of splitters and wreckers. Most of the time most of us aren’t, so let’s show a bit of solidarity, and not just on abortion by the way, that is but one example, and here’s another.
Winning marriage equality was not a distraction, it was really really important to a whole lot of people and it spoke to key values of justice and fairness and equality that are at the heart of the left-wingedness of many. And while many of us worked on that we also beavered away on the paid parental leave campaign, fighting the attack on workers’ rest breaks, exposing the cruel and petty approach to beneficiaries this government is encouraging. We can haz multitasking.
Taking a small step: Keep your moaning about the inconvenient views of your allies to a much more private forum than a blog or twitter. And if you are going to share the views of someone who you should be allying with make damn sure they said them in public (and no, a private Facebook status doesn’t count) before you put them under the microscope for it. We all mouth off at the pub/staffroom/dinner table. But we don’t need to put it out there, for the world to see, in a way that undermines allies.
5. Be generous, and ask questions instead of reacting.
I thought about calling this one “It isn’t all about you.” When you don’t get something, when you find yourself reacting with anger particularly to something an ally has said, first up ask some questions. Why do they think that? Why did that happen? What was the reason for saying/doing that? Get a bit of conversation and understanding going on. Seek clarification: “Are you saying that it’s ok to wear whatever you want?” (the answer to this is YES btw).
The ally may get annoyed at you for asking, because they may be sick of having to explain this stuff, but someone else might pick up the mantle and help you out. Then you can assess with more information and avoid the “oh sorry I didn’t know that” stuff that comes when we deny allies the benefit of the doubt first up.
Taking a small step: Learn when you are reacting with anger and start to notice it before you say anything. This is a great tool to have for all sorts of reasons and situations, not least avoiding blurting out your ignorant disagreement with someone you should and could be acting in solidarity with.
Alright, that’s my starter. Please add your ingredients to my Good Ally Friendship Solidarity Cake