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The following links were ganked from, I believe, [ profile] ithiliana and [ profile] rm, respectively. I've had some interesting discussions about them (well, about the first one; for the second, I more or less seethed in silence) on my Facebook profile, and I wanted to bring the discussion over to my LJ, to see what y'all thought.

First link: The Radical Masculinity blog discusses why the term "ally" is problematic. There are a lot of reasons why I think this essay is interesting and crucial, but the topic I wanted to bring to my LJ is this: how does the meaning of "ally" differ depending on the community one allies oneself with? Do all marginalized communities require the same things of their allies?

I'm thinking about this because I had a really interesting discussion with a couple friends of mine about how the pitfalls of identifying as an "ally" differ, depending on which community (communities) one allies oneself with. I, of course, mostly think about the term "ally" vis-à-vis LGBTQ communities. I think about how some people want the Unpronounceable Acronym of Queerness to be LGBTQA, where the "A" stands for "allies" (and sometimes "asexual"). I think about the sheer number of organizations I've encountered that proclaim themselves gay-straight alliances, or queer and ally groups, and while I certainly think that the presence of straight and cisgendered allies is important, I really don't see the need to explicitly include allies in the name or mission statement of any group. I get the impression that doing so is intended to be a means of encouraging straight and/or cisgendered people to participate in our movements, by assuring them that they don't have to be some flavor of queer in order to participate, and/or to cover them somehow by assuring outsiders that not everyone who participates is queer. But given that my own access to queer-friendly space is limited, while almost all of the world is a straight-friendly space, I don't feel that I should have to go out of the way to make straight people feel comfortable in predominantly queer spaces. In fact, I'd argue that straight people's discomfort can be productive: it can force them to rethink their own privilege, and their own unquestioned senses of entitlement and/or comfort; and therefore, I'd rather they sit with their discomfort a bit rather than have it reassuringly whisked away. Furthermore, if a straight and/or cisgendered person is afraid of being called queer; if they insist on being shielded from the heterosexism and/or cissexism that the people with whom they are supposedly "allied" have no option of dodging, then, by definition, they are not my ally. If you want to be my ally, you have to be willing to engage in hard work with me, and to reap all the potential social consequences that I also face.

My friend Jonathan, who is a disability rights activist, approaches the issue from a different angle. I quote him verbatim below:
For instance, although it may be simplistic, I am always wary of organizations *for* people with disabilities as opposed to organizations *of* people with disabilities, as one word can situate who exactly is in control of that organization and the direction it takes. Trying to find nondisabled allies is a bit of a scary thing (especially if you're a lifer like myself) because (for me) there is always this idea that certain notions of the body, wellness, etc. have been ingrained in our culture, and until a person experiences impairment and how society disables him or her on many levels, they just won't "get it" (ALL the aspects, negative & positive) and, therefore this seems to make "ally" a very troublesome term.

Meanwhile, my friend logodaedalyChris expresses a different set of concerns regarding his identity as a feminist:
Claiming the label feminist has definitely made me rethink actions I've taken or things I've said -- merely claiming a word has affected my behavior positively. I also know I've failed to examine certain actions because I claimed that label and simply assumed I was in the right -- it has affected my behavior negatively, too.

To me, Jonathan's and my concerns about "allies" seem to be very unique to the identities we claim. In the disability community, Jonathan worries about self-identified allies who decide to use their ally status to work for people with disabilities, rather than with them. In my case, I am wary of people who want to claim the progressive cultural caché of having queer friends while disavowing the risks and sorrows that I believe an ally should share. Chris, on the other hand, seems to identify a set of concerns and pitfalls that can befall any ally of any community. But then, my perspective on this issue is understandably limited.

So I wanted to open the question up to people here: what pitfalls of being an "ally," and what requirements of potential allies, cover the needs of a number of communities? What pitfalls and requirements are specific to certain communities? And is the blog author right here? Should we get rid of the term "ally" for these reasons? Why/why not? If so, what concept, if anything, should take its place? Other thoughts are welcome, too.

The second link is less abstract, but nonetheless broke my poor little politically charged fangirl heart. It's about how Torchwood is apparently a pro-American neoconservative show that is all about how Europe needs a more or less constant dose of tough American love to stay afloat. It's also apparently about: a) Jack Harkness mounting a War On Terror against the evil alien hordes, staying the course and never questioning his tactics; c) people of color embracing the American melting pot ideal and never once "complaining" about the impact of racism on their lives; c) advancing a pro-life agenda.

OMG YOU GUYS, I DO NOT EVEN KNOW WHERE TO START. How about with the fact that, while Torchwood clearly tips its hat to any number of American sci-fi shows (The X-Files comes to mind, particularly after CoE-- did anyone else think John Frobisher looked like the Cigarette-Smoking Man?), it pretty obviously critiques them and camps them up-- so whoever wrote this piece of shit article, in addition to being a sexist, racist hack, also obviously has no camp sensibilities (in which case, why are you even watching Torchwood?). How about RTD's long history-- particularly in CoE and the DW Season 3 finale-- of criticizing American intervention into British affairs?

As far as "complaining" people of color go: who gets the chance? I mean, there's Tosh, and brief appearances by Martha and Lois, but then there's also the fact that every single person of South Asian descent ever to appear on the show dies before the end of the episode they appear in. What the shit is up with that? Do we really want to applaud RTD's approach to race in Torchwood, given his apparent view of South Asian people as expendable (even as he insists in the radio play Golden Age that the legacy of British colonialism is over and has been transcended)? I'd also like to point out Martha's attempts to bring up race during her run in Doctor Who-- and the fact that the Doctor's "well, if you don't tell people you're black, they'll never notice!" approach was never particularly believable or helpful.

Oh yeah-- and apparently Torchwood is pro-life because Jack et. al. did not want the government to give up 10% of the child population of the world. Because *rolls eyes* obviously a pro-choice Torchwood would have let the 456 just take all those kids, because that's what the pro-choice position is about-- killing babies. Oh-- and also, because Gwen chooses to carry her pregnancy to term at the end of CoE. Because choosing to keep a pregnancy is not pro-choice. At all. Apparently.

I also love how, although Jack's "omnisexuality" is mentioned in passing, Ianto isn't even mentioned in the article. I guess having a relationship with a person of the same sex really buggers (I can't decide whether or not the pun is intended) this whole notion of Jack as neocon hero. Finally, the fucking author compares Gwen to Sarah Palin. LET ME TELL YOU HOW NOT OKAY THAT COMPARISON IS. IT IS SO, SO NOT OKAY. Fortunately, I read the comment threads so that you don't have to, and one of the commenters pointed out the ONLY circumstances under which comparing Gwen and Palin might be okay. I endorse this comparison. I endorse it HARD.

I also really love this insightful comment, which I think accurately describes RTD's approach as that of a well-intentioned white man who frequently goes astray.

Thoughts, y'all?

Date: 2009-07-17 03:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think the term Ally is helpful in an activist context only. By using this term people are designating themselves as the straight(/white/male/etc) people who will vote against the discriminatory legislation, come to your rally, phone bank for your cause, etc. They may never quite get it, but they are trying and will help with the cause.

As a social term I think it's next to useless. Just because I do my best not to be the clueless white chick doesn't mean that I'm not occasionally the clueless white chick. Calling myself an ally shouldn't give me a pass on that.

... also obviously has no camp sensibilities (in which case, why are you even watching Torchwood?)

Anglophilia, I'd guess. Even the most patriotic, America-is-the-best-country-in-the-world idiot still tends to associate England with quality and refinement. And since it's on BBCA, it's clearly English. Never mind those pesky Welsh actors or locations or production teams.

So I'd guess that the camp totally escaped his notice and he believes that Torchwood is QUALITY TELEVISION!


Date: 2009-07-17 04:18 pm (UTC)
elf: Rainbow sparkly fairy (Default)
From: [personal profile] elf
I don't identify as an ally. Of anything. (I don't identify as a feminist, either.)

I am entirely ambivalent to attempting to label my location on any kind of queer-straight chart; I am not "straight," but it would certainly feel strange to call myself "queer," especially in regards to working towards equal rights... I'm married to a person of the opposite gender, and we have kids, in a liberal area where "swinging" is considered a slightly risque hobby; we get the full het privilege package, regardless of our actual orientations.

I'd feel very odd indeed calling myself a "white ally" of race issues. I try to keep conscious of racial biases around me, and point them out to my family & sometimes friends...who, exactly, would that make me an ally of? "An ally of people of color" implies that I'm somehow working against white people, which is not how I want to perceive the struggle for total equality.

The "ally" label does seem to be rather cookie-based. At its best, I suppose it's an acknowledgement of efforts made, and assistance done. At its worst, it's someone declaring "I deserve a cookie for paying attention, and getting in people's faces about what's interesting to me."

It'd be nice to find a way to acknowledge useful activities without rewarding egotism at the same time.

Date: 2009-07-17 05:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with what the poster says (hello, Facebook link) but I'm having a hard time figuring out what alternative language to use. Supporter is problematic, "working in solidarity with" is wanky as fuck and rather unwieldy, so I got nothing other than "ally but not the kind that thinks claiming this label gives me a free pass at examining my privileges" and that's even worse.

That Torchwood thing hurts me to my very soul, man. I couldn't even read it because it sounded so dumb. Re: comment about RTD as well-intentioned white man, at this point I can't even begin to accept that he might have good intentions after the chimney-sweep remark, never mind the Evil (but oh so hot) South Asian of Doom thing. Or the fact that all the white guys in Voyage of the Damned survived. Etc etc. I dunno. At least Whedon has a proven track record of strong female characters, even if the Mandarin in Firefly makes me cringe still (and that's not really his fault).

Date: 2009-07-17 11:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with what the poster says... but I'm having a hard time figuring out what alternative language to use.

Yeah, that's about where I depart from the poster, too. I get the impression that the original poster comes from a queer activist background, as well, and as much as I love and identify with that background, I think that sometimes queer activists put a little too much stock in pinning down the language we use to describe our activist endeavors, and/or we think finding the right word will solve our problems. I think that's a bit naive. I take away from this article the idea that simply identifying as an ally is not enough, and that working in solidarity with marginalized communities is an ongoing and frequently unsettling process. But I don't think we can blame the word "ally" for people insulating themselves from that fact.

Re: comment about RTD as well-intentioned white man, at this point I can't even begin to accept that he might have good intentions after the chimney-sweep remark, never mind the Evil (but oh so hot) South Asian of Doom thing. Or the fact that all the white guys in Voyage of the Damned survived.

I hadn't thought about Voyage of the Damned! I think I was too preoccupied with thinking: "Oh, shit, you're going to make me watch an hour of Kylie Minogue?!" to notice how very, very problematic that episode was from an anti-racist perspective. But wow, it is.

I totally agree re: the Filipino chimney sweep comment, and I kind of want to smack RTD in the head for it. I dunno. I won't even claim to have that great of an understanding of how race relations in the UK differ from those in the US, but I'd really like to dig a little deeper into how race issues are treated in Torchwood and RTD-era Doctor Who. Because it seems to me that RTD wants to wave his anti-racist qualifications around, by virtue of introducing the first companion of color to DW. And I found that TW radio play "Golden Age" really fascinating (if infuriating) from an anti-racist and postcolonial perspective: the script seems outwardly to lambaste colonialism, and to argue that the UK is better now that it's given up its worldwide imperial ambitions. And yet Indian people are all but absent from the episode, and by bringing the Torchwood team to India, the implication is that India needs outside (read: white) assistance once more.

I dunno. I still think that RTD is, for the most part, a well-intentioned white man, but I don't intend that to be an apologia for his work. Clearly, there's a lot of problems in it that I don't think are really very forgivable. Maybe it would be more accurate to describe him as one of those gay white men who mistakenly thinks his experiences with heterosexism give him a special sensitivity and/or immunity to other times of isms. Although even there, I feel cautious, because I think there's been a lot of fanwank lately in which (mostly straight) fangirls are trying to diagnose him as a self-loathing gay man in order to "explain" his killing off of Ianto.


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