Stop Posting and Start Helping: A Guide to Real Change

by Albin Chaiet

In an age of social media, everything is online. Approximately 79% of Americans, or roughly 247 million people, use social media. Every minute, over 300 hours of footage is uploaded on YouTube. These videos have an ever-expanding range: from the latest children’s toy un-boxing, to live footage of hate crimes. We watch news clips on Snapchat of alt-right protests and Nazi-sympathizers in places of power. Since 2015, many privileged left-leaning individuals have felt the need to inundate their Facebook pages and Instagram feeds with phrases like #Ally, #BlackAlly, #LGBTAlly and #Resist. Unfortunately, much of these “Allies” conclude their activism as soon as they click “post” on their social media.

While it is important to recognise the emotional support and sense of community that Social-Media Activism can create; your Instagram feed is not going to save lives. Most people who consider themselves allies have good intentions: they support marginalised groups “in a way that is comfortable to them”. However, history shows us that systemic change is inherently disruptive and uncomfortable. Revolutionaries do not topple regimes while sitting on the couch.

Ally” started off as its original definition within the activism community: used specifically of a person who is not a member of a marginalised or mistreated group but who expresses or gives support to that group. However, as social media has shallowed complex problems into byte-size issues for quick consumption. Now, allyship has become an attention-seeking trend to appear as an empathetic individual without putting in any of the work.  “Racial Justice work is not a trend, it is work that requires full investment, full heart, full dedication” (Dove, 2018).

Therefore, intersectional feminist activist and writer Mia McKenzie, popularised the phrase “Ally Theater”. Ally theater is the systemic presentation of selfishly derailing conversations from marginalised voices and experiences. According to research, “most white Americans associate racism with hate crimes… [and therefore] are unaware [of] how bias and discrimination have taken on an invisible nature that protects them from realizing their own complicity in the perpetuation of unintentional racism towards persons of color” (Sue et al. 2008). Ally Theater often appears as an attempt to garner an audience: they expect a reward for simply acknowledging the injustice that so many individuals face daily. Like an annoying relative, it arrives unwelcomed, in the form of an observation or feedback to a black narrative. Comments like “I’m not like other white people” and “O.M.G., this is so messed up” are simply made to garner attention.

CEO and diversity advocate Michelle Kim argues that preventing Ally Theater is easy: selflessly do something for that marginalised group you claim to support. True allyship requires consistent action, with a fundamental self-awareness. Your contributions as an ally are not self-defined; by definition, the communities you are aiding must be the ones to recognise your actions as an act of allyship. This is not a title to award yourself for your #ResistTrump tweet. You are not being a superior person, nor are you better than others for recognising institutional oppression. Anyone can be an ally, regardless of their identity; they can be privileged in some circumstances and marginalised in others — these identities can co-exist. It is about endorsing and broadcasting the testimonies and experiences of marginalised individuals, using your own privilege and community as a platform without expecting any applause.

 

Albin Morris Chaiet , Leeds Alumnus (BA Social Policy ’19) .