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When I first read the article in Time magazine by Steve Friess “Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away,” I was stunned. He was writing in response to a previous opinion piece in Time by Sierra Mannie, a black woman who criticized white gay men appropriating black women’s culture.
Friess dismissed her, based on the idea that white gay men are the “truest friends black women can have in American society.” He had this idea that gay white men and straight black women are really natural allies and that the only problem is our ability, as black women, to understand that. I thought, great, now I even have white gay men mansplaining to me. I was ready to get outraged: “Based on your attendance at a concert featuring black women you think you know me?”
But I think a lot about allies. I wrote a couple of pieces a while back in conversation with Black Girl Dangerous on the limitations of allies, and attacks on Britney Cooper where allies were MIA. As Yvonne put it in Autostraddle, Friess “offers no actual proof of how white gay men are allies to black women other than they share similar musical tastes.” But then I thought about it. I’m working on being more optimistic. I never thought we’d have a black president. So go ahead, surprise me.
Friess, if you wanna be an ally to straight black women, here’s one basic thing you need to know. Black women are not always good at asking for help. We’ve been taught we don’t deserve help. Even the president left us out of his signature racial justice legislation My Brother’s Keeper. We have been taught that we are the help. As you may recall, there was a bestseller written about it. The Help. But black women could certainly use help. We are overworked in every sector of our lives. I am not in a position to speak for what queer or trans black women need, and when I come across the posts those sisters inevitably start putting up, I will start linking. Here’s a great post from a black queer man Preston Mitchum on Role Reboot. But if you want to be helpful to heterosexual black women, then there’s actually a long to-do list that we could use an ally for:
Watch my kids. I don’t just mean babysit a couple of times. I mean build strong, committed, supportive, relationships with them so you can be in their lives and watch them grow up. And yes, commit a 2-3 hour block of time weekly to be with them, so I can get other things done.
If I’m single, go meet straight black men and vet them for me. I’ve been following Peechington Marie trying to date on OK Cupid and these brothers is crazy. So please check them out. Make sure that they like black women, they are interested in a relationship not just quick sex, they have an overall positive response to feminism, and above everything, confirm that they have emotional intelligence/communication skills. By the way, if you see anyone with potential, feel free to mentor them to see if they can make the cut with a little assistance.
If I’m in a long-term relationship or marriage with a black man, can you PLEASE build him a community of progressive men that he can express his feelings with? The heterosexual drinking buddy relationships can only get him so far. I mean a group of men who really express their feelings. Think of it as Queer Cry For the Straight Guy. It’s nice that you claim responsibility for the metrosexual trend, but I actually need help transforming men’s insides, not their outsides.
If I have a day job, come by my office and pretend to poach me. Nobody gets taken for granted in the workplace like women of color. Remember, we are supposed to be the help. Doesn’t really matter if we’re the executive director or CEO, everyone is still looking for us to take care of them at some level. We are underpaid, underpromoted, undervalued, and our leadership is undermined. Come by and act like some bigwig from a competing company who might hire us. See if you can help drum up a little respect for us in the home office.
If I’m an artist, pose as my agent/manager when I go to events. Gatekeepers will more likely take me seriously if they think a white man has invested in me. Or you might pose as an interested patron or audience member. The prevailing understanding of creative industries is that men in general and white men in particular don’t care about women of color. That you all don’t read our stories, see our movies, buy our visual arts, attend our theater. We know you love our singing, but doesn’t everyone? Are you listening to the lyrics? And while you’re at it, don’t just pose as a consumer, patronize our work and support women of color artists. And that would NOT include using a massive platform like Time Magazine to dismiss and criticize our analysis. I didn’t mean that kind of patronizing.
And while you’re at it, support feminist media and movements. Subscribe to our publications, join feminist organizations that support issues that disproportionately affect women of color. Turn up at our rallies. Sign our petitions. Donate to our Kickstarters.
You’re hooked on Orange is the New Black? Great! Go volunteer some time in a women’s prison. Women of color are being disproportionately locked up. We need legal support, moral support, spiritual support, educational support, creative programming. Whatever you do out in the world, come do it for some women in prison.
Write a letter to Marissa Alexander. The black woman who’s doing time for shooting in the air to defend herself against her abusive partner and whose “stand your ground” defense was ignored. Stand our ground with us when the government won’t
Come with us to defend abortion clinics. Now that SCOTUS has struck down the buffer zone law with the McCullen decision, we may be seeing more anti-abortion violence. Can you squeeze a little Saturday outdoor time into your schedule?
If I’m receiving any government assistance, come with me to visit my social worker, parole officer, or other bureaucratic institution for food stamps, general assistance, section 8, disability, court date. Come see how I get treated by the system. And, if there’s an opportunity, please speak up on my behalf.
Be in the car with me when cops pull me over. And with my male partner or son if they’re driving.
Finally, please come clean my house with me. Let me be clear, I mean clean not decorate. I know you have ideas of what could really highlight the lovely wood features of the space, but I’m not going for Better Homes and Gardens, I’m going for Reasonably Clean and Orderly. It would be a welcome novelty to have a white man cleaning by my side.
So after a long day of being an ally to my black womanhood, we’ll be pretty tired. We may not have a lot of time to sit around at retro concerts drinking and hanging out while you get points for having a cool black girlfriend, but my life would actually be much better. And that’s the whole point. Right, ally? In other words, unless you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and really help a sista out, don’t act like you know me and that your alleged allyship entitles you to appropriate my community’s culture.