It’s been about a year since I chose to cut off someone that I once considered a friend. This person reblogged something that I found offensive on a blog that we shared. The intention wasn’t to be offensive, but this is a case of intent vs impact – Just because you mean well doesn’t mean you aren’t causing harm. At first, I wasn’t going to say anything (because I knew that they meant well) but then another friend mentioned it first, so I chimed in.
This “friend” didn’t get mad at the person who actually brought it up but somehow was mad at me. While I explained what was offensive about the reblog and even put it in terms of their own struggles, they refused to admit they were wrong. Eventually they apologized but it wasn’t a real apology. It was one of those “I’m saying sorry because I know I should, not because I mean it” situations. The reason that this bothered me so much was because this person was one that not only claimed to be a feminist but that I had trusted as both a friend and an ally.
As a person of color, it’s not okay for a white person to tell me what is or is not racist. They are never going to be on the receiving end of racism and they will never understand fully what it’s like. This doesn’t mean that they can’t have an opinion, weigh in and ask questions, but it does mean that as an ally their first concern should be listening and learning.
For example, as a Black woman in America I face both racism and sexism constantly. However, I am still aware that I have certain privileges. I do not face Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. So as someone who very fiercely identifies as an intersectional feminist and an ally, if someone (with any identity that I personally do not have) told me that something was offensive to them, I would listen. Why? Because I don’t want to disregard their feelings. Because I would (unfairly) be telling them how they should act in a situation that I will never be in. Most importantly, because it’s the right thing to do, and if I didn’t, I would be betraying everything that I claimed to stand for.
The bottom line is that you may not always understand someone else’s point of view but in situations like this you don’t have to because 1. It’s not about you and 2. what you don’t understand is still another person’s reality. And if we’re being honest, your unwillingness to take the time to listen and understand makes you a part of the problem.
The most important part of being an ally is using your privilege to help lift the voices of those who are constantly silenced. So when you stop listening, it makes it that much harder for those voices to be heard.