I fear that in our attempts to name the dynamics of systemic oppression, we have adopted language that holds in place the very hierarchies we seek to dismantle. The terms that particularly concern me are ‘privilege’ and ‘allyship’ because both present a false dichotomy that separates our experiences and shapes them as oppositional.
The framing of ‘allyship’ is problematic for a number of reasons, and these are just some that I have been reflecting on:
The term plays into the false idea that there is a hierarchy of oppression and that we have to ‘show up’ for others before we fight for our own self-interests. Although ‘allyship’ asserts an ongoing need for self-reflection, it does not allow space to examine the distortions that frame and misname our differences.
It is framed to put the moral responsibility on White people to assist people of colour in anti-racist struggles. It positions White people as supporters, with no interests of their own at stake in these struggles.
We attach privilege to individuals, without exploring how it has been produced by a system of oppression and is in fact the end manifestation of the way in which that system operates.
This argument makes sense to me. I like the term solidarity and have found myself using it for things like supporting unionization efforts and wearing masks to keep it normalized for the immunocompromised — why not also for race? Solidarity feels more substantial somehow?
I think I’ll keep using the word privilege in conversation though because it is a simple way of communicating my background – as long as I pair it with the understanding that those experiences were systemic rather than due to my individual circumstances. The wording proposed here seems appropriate for writing but awkward for talking.