“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different than my own.” – Audre Lorde
I believe that being an ally is important to the greater goal of justice and inclusion for our American society. Yet as I have learned and grown as an activist and as a self-identifying intersectional feminist, I have found that the space of the ally is still in its infancy of enlightenment. We understand it as speaking out against oppression, but we don’t outline what the job actually looks like or what that job description (so-to-speak) entails.
I realized in being an ally to others that it is about listening and speaking up in the spaces where I am surrounded by those who share the same privilege as I have, and do not know, understand and/or own that privilege.
It’s very important to point out that even this post is inaccurate, because what I expect of an ally is different than what other marginalized people who experience different oppressive structures expect. My experience is not their experience, and neither is yours.
To get to your question – I first ask you to recall, if possible, a time when someone has spoken on your behalf without your consent or input and keep that the emotion and injustice I assume that experience would invoke, in mind. For the many, many times that experience has happened for me, it is frustrating and infuriating, and evokes a sense of helplessness.
In building a safe space, you have to first keep in mind whose definition of safe you’re working with. If an ally is looking for a safe space for those who experience the oppression of ableism that space will likely be more conscious of different social triggers than a space that, for example, focuses on Black women and girls in education. If you’re talking about a safe space for all marginalized people, you will have to first educate yourself extensively on how all oppressive mentalities have manifested in ourselves, in yourself, and then listen. There are a ton of resources to read about, and stories of people who have offered up their testimonies of their experiences as marginalized people. In spaces where there those people speak up on their oppression? Just. Listen.
As an ally, I would rather see you educating others than giving me validation or asking me for advice. There are so many other resources and platforms for you to educate yourself and others; please don’t enter our spaces without expressly being invited to offer your opinion or validation. To be honest, it’s not usually something I want to discuss with those who enjoy privilege where I am oppressed.
Now I want to talk about the two examples you gave – “intersectional white feminist” and “male feminist.” First – intersectional feminism was created by Black women for Black femmes and non-men. Those outside of that space cannot identify as such. There are no “intersectional white feminists;” white feminists cannot be intersectional, even when you operating as a white person who supports the ideologies of intersectional feminism, you are an inclusive feminist. Anyone who calls themselves a white feminist cannot fundamentally support intersectionality especially since white feminism is solely exclusionary. Ally is not a noun, it is a verb. Because of this, men can’t be feminists and you can’t self-identify as an ally. You can try your best to be an ally but there is no “achievement” of being so. You don’t finally become an ally after saying or doing the work after a while. It’s a life long path with no destination outside of the greater achievement of justice. Period. I try to avoid absolutes, but personally, this is one for me.
I see so many white cishet women and men comment and share stuff on my feed, in groups, DM me, or even in face-to-face conversations with me offer their opinion and interpretation of my experiences as a Black woman. It is exhausting. I understand that it comes from a place of compassion and willingness to help and support. But this is not what an ally looks like.
TL/DR: To create a safe space, please spotlight the space of the marginalized people, rather than your own opinions and beliefs of their oppression. Focus on educating the privilege rather than commenting on the oppressed.