Why Do Online ‘Allies’ Have To Be So Annoying?

I appreciate all of the people who are advocating for social justice, but why does it seem that so many of them are just yelling on social media, and don’t mention doing anything in the physical world?

Also, why do “allies” have the tendency to be super-annoying and up in one’s face?These are not even their issues, and yet they are laying claim to them in a way that really offends me. I’d rather listen to members of the group in question than some “ally.”

Thank you, and I am, 
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous:

Since I was recently listed on the Gamergate block list as a Social Justice Warrior, I feel uniquely qualified to answer this question.

Let’s tackle this in the order you asked it: yelling on social media. When I get mad about something, I yell on social media. It’s what I do. I’m not sure exactly why, but I feel like I need to share my outrage. I think I do it because it brings attention to issues I don’t think are getting enough attention by the standard media outlets, or because something grabs my attention as firmly as a cute puppy pic would. So I share it and point out what angers me about it.

As far as doing anything in real life, isn’t the Internet real life? I have met some of my dearest friends on the Internet. Some of them, I’ve met maybe only once or twice in meatspace. Some? Not at all, but that doesn’t make our friendship any less real. I’d argue the same goes for discussions, online groups, etc.

Even if you don’t buy the “Internet is real” argument, I have gone to many a meatspace protest, and I have written my representatives about things that matter to me, as well as mainstream media outlets I feel are getting things wrong. I’m not sure how much I post about those things, unless I’m asking people to do the same thing or to sign a petition, but I can imagine a lot of reasons people wouldn’t: a need for physical privacy (many people, especially women of color, receive death threats, for instance. Broadcasting where they will be at a certain time seems unwise). A desire to talk about things globally or nationally without too much of a local focus. I will also say that there are many reasons that people don’t do in-person social justice work on issues they care about, and stick with blogging, sharing on social media, etc.: physical or mental disabilities that make leaving the house really difficult, parenting, too many jobs, etc.

As for ‘allies’ being super annoying and up in people’s faces: I’ve been guilty of that myself, too. While I would never actually call myself an ally of any group, and I find the word as an identity very very strange (more on that further down), I will say that I disagree with you on whether certain issues are MY issue. For instance, white people created racism. I’d say racism IS our issue, and part of what I feel is a white person’s responsibility is to take on other white people who are saying racist crap or doing racist things. I also think that homophobia is a straight person issue — they created it and they perpetuate it.

I also know for a fact because I’ve seen it over and over again: sexist men who refuse to listen to women who speak up about misogyny or sexism will listen to other men who say the identical words a woman just said.Defensive white people who cannot hear what people of color are saying because they are SO defensive and angry often can hear the exact same message when other white people say it.

That sucks, but if the goal is to change people’s minds then allies are actually helping, even as they are annoying you as a person who would rather listen to the source.

I think this leads into your comment about ‘allies’ laying claim to issues, and the whole idea of the word ‘ally.’

There is a certain sort of person who feeds his/her ego through discussions like this. A certain sort of person who dominates panels at cons and won’t let people of color speak when the issue is racism. A certain sort of person who has their identity so closely tied to being an ally or an anti-racist that they can no longer listen to the people who are most affected by the issue.

I think, too, that when you self-describe yourself as an ‘ally’ to any group, and it becomes a part of your identity, you slip into dangerous territory. You are defending your identity rather than your fellow citizens. You are defending your right to talk about an issue rather than shedding light. It becomes about YOU rather than anything else.

I can see how tempting this is.  I’ve fallen prey to this sort of thinking myself at times. But beyond annoying folks such as yourself, it is also dangerous, and unpleasant, and silences the less-dominant voices that need to be heard.And that is seriously, seriously shitty.

This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on August 27, 2015.

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