So, other people have been saying this for years. I’m going to throw my own words at the idea. I’m low on spoons right now and so my “mespeak to normal-speak” translator is faulty. This piece will be more like my own natural writing voice and less like what other people usually understand better and so I apologize if it’s hard for you to read. I will probably come back and translate it into another post sometime. For now the words and the idea are important in light of recent events and I need to get them out so I can concentrate on school.
Many privileged people like to call themselves allies to a cause they believe themselves to be aligned with. Please note the phrasing on the last part of the sentence, it’s important.
These are the white people who say they’re anti-racist allies, the straight people who say they’re GBLQ allies, the cis people who say they’re trans and nonbinary allies and the abled people who say they’re allies to the disabled people.
Many people (me too!) run into this issue, where you assume (maybe not intentionally/consciously) that calling yourself a thing makes it true. But it’s not. I can call myself a bird and flap my arms really hard and tape feathers to my clothing, but it won’t make me a bird. I am a person. Calling yourself a thing does not make you that thing.
So, you can call yourself an ally all you want, but that doesn’t make you an ally. What makes you an ally is being an ally. Which I know is a tautology but:
Likewise, if someone as an abled person calls themself anti-ableist and calls themself an ally, but they bend over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to ableist narratives (“they’re just ignorant” or “what if they’re in crisis? We have to help them!”), and they repeat ableist soundbites unthinkingly, and they talk over disabled people on our issues or allow others to do so, and they accept ableist stereotypes and they perpetuate ableist double standards, and they close their eyes to ableist jokes and behavior, are they really an anti-ableism ally? No. They’re not. They are, at best, someone who wishes us well as long as they don’t have to look hard at their own behavior.
By contrast, what about an abled person who questions ableist narratives, challenges ableist soundbites, refuses to accept ableist stereotypes, centers disabled voices in ableism discussions, makes their best effort to avoid ableist double standards, and calls out ableist jokes and behavior? That person is an ally. Regardless of whether or not they call themself one.
(similar analogies can be drawn across other axes of privilege but I’m talking about ableism here)
Ally is not a title you get to put on and not worry about again. It’s not like a college degree. It’s more like a professional certification. You have to keep working. Keep improving. Keep challenging yourself. The second you stop is the second you stop being an ally. It’s a job. Not a title.
You want to be an ally? Be one.
Want to call yourself an ally? Don’t be surprised if the people you claim to be allied to start calling you out on your shit.