Monday, July 5, 2010

Ally is a Verb - Part II

- by Stacey Prince

A few months back I wrote here about allyship. It was a start. I would like to revisit the concept of allyship based on some recent events and reflections. Specifically, a Facebook friend made an overtly racist comment on his "wall". I can't even call it a micro-aggression; there was nothing subtle or ambiguous about it. Or funny. To my despair, several friends gave his comment a thumbs up, and others wrote comments that were supportive or even reinforcing. Only one was gently chiding, and it was hard to tell whether she was going along with the joke, or really trying to give him some feedback.

I debated what action to take. Do nothing, just let it pass? That didn't feel good. Say something on Facebook? I didn't want to publically shame him, and I don't think people learn well when they are shamed. But on the other hand I didn’t want to engage in that "passive bystander" behavior, where I see it clearly but don't call it out. What must it be like for other people reading his post, especially people of color, to not see anyone standing up and making a corrective comment? I chose to communicate with him backchannel. Though my action did not resolve the bystander problem, it felt better than nothing. I told him I found his comment offensive, and explained why, and asked him to look at his own biases and prejudices as well as the effect that such a public statement has on others. I idealistically thought it would lead to his retracting or apologizing for the comment, or at least to a dialogue between the two of us.

I waited for a response... nothing. The next day I went on Facebook and realized that he had unfriended me! Ah, the modern day, social networking version of letting someone know you are really pissed off, so pissed off you just don't want to see them, ever again. Part of me laughed at this, like, really? But what was was the power of the visceral response I had... I was shaking. Though two of them were not aimed directly at me, this felt like a series of three affronts: first, his original comment, then his friends who patted him on the back for it, and finally his "un-friending" in response to my feedback.

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