Have you ever found yourself in a situation resembling the following?
· You are a christian student and notice that there is an active atheist club on campus.
· You are white and see that there is a hip new bar in town catering to African-Americans.
· You were born in the U.S., but see a cool new social networking organization for young Vietnamese immigrants pop up in your area.
· You are a man and notice that there are now several vocal women’s safety organizations in your town.
· You are straight and you have become aware of a vibrant and edgy queer art scene in a neighborhood near you.
If you can identify with any of these scenarios, you are just one of many. Many people in society become aware of the interesting goings-on in marginalized or oppressed communities, and are naturally curious.
If your curiosity leads to a desire to find out more, you can turn into one of two people:
1. An awesome supporter and ally of a different community
2. A shitty co-opter who uses affiliation with a marginalized community to look “cool”.
YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE NUMBER TWO.
To be a supporter and ally:
Before attending a community’s event, try to find out if outsiders are even welcome.
Be prepared to learn, not to teach.
See how you can “bring something to the table” through promoting, donating, volunteering or working to end oppression experienced by the community.
Be thankful for the opportunity for an inside look at the community.
Keep your mouth shut- spend your time listening.
If members of an oppressed community decide to share information with you about how they experience discrimination, be supportive and affirm their feelings.
Make it clear that though you haven’t had the same experiences, you still value their perspectives.
Be open to experiencing things that will change the way you perceive larger society.
Be ready to work out differences.
To be a shitty co-opter:
Assume that outsiders are always wanted and welcome.
Tell members of the marginalized community what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
Steal ideas, style and strategies without offering anything in return.
Act like the community should be grateful simply for your presence.
Take up all the space by insisting on constantly being the center of attention.
Deny that members of marginalized communities experience discrimination or oppression, and tell them they are wrong to feel that way.
Pretend that you can fully understand all aspects of the situation of someone from an oppressed community.
Refuse to legitimately try to understand the perspective of the community in question.
Claim a the community’s identity as your own.
It’s about space. Co-opters actually hurt and further oppress the communities that they prey on by invading their space, whereas allies help them thrive. People who stand in a privileged position in society may learn to expect that they have a right to access any and all community space. They may also come to think that they know what’s best for communities that experience oppression. It is easy to feel this way when you are accustomed to society catering to your demographic’s needs, especially if you are white, male, christian, straight, or US-born, etc. Please be aware that people who do not share these characteristics with you have had very, very different experiences with our society. This is not a reason to distance yourself from marginalized or oppressed communities, but to instead practice being an effective ally.
© 3/31/08 idyllicmollusk