Performative allyship isn’t what I need from you, white men.

Hi all, your favorite sunflower is here with a quick reminder: performative allyship is not what we need from you. I am mostly directing this at white men in academia, because in my experience a lot of y’all are into allyship, just not principally because it is a good thing to do. What you want is the cookies associated with good allyship: namely, that it looks really good in your tenure packet and on grants when you serve on committees or perform other soft-skill heavy community actions on behalf of the university, for the sake of “diversity”. Additionally, a lot of you use performative allyship as a honeypot to attract underrepresented students, regardless of whether or not you are actually capable of mentoring these students. Unfortunately, underrepresented minorities in the sciences are not bakeries and our lives don’t exist to dispense you ego cookies–we exist regardless of whether or not it dawns on you that service towards URMs is good for your pretenure review packet.

I’m bringing this up because a lot of the time when I talk to white academics about allyship, they bring up that they don’t personally feel welcome in spaces to provide solutions to the diversity crisis in academia. Specifically, I hear a lot of ” I want to provide solutions, but then (insert URM here) tell me to stop talking and I don’t know what to do.”

Well, I am sorry to break it to you: but if the only reason you attempt allyship is to gain recognition as being The Best Ally ™, then your performative allyship really isn’t needed. In fact, if there are already people in the room who are URMs, who are proffering solutions to academia’s diversity crisis, the only reason you should be talking is to voice your agreement. I don’t mean this in a mean or stuck up way. White academics, notably white men, have been saying everything in academia since its inception. It is time for you to stop monopolizing the microphone and pass it to someone else.

White folks, think of it this way: through time, you have accumulated (through both world history and academic history) a vast wealth of social capital.  You-as an ally-know that you are able to get away with things and maneuver through the world completely differently than any URM can, because of this societal privilege. So, rather than being the performative and singular *I*, be the accomplice and actually accomplish something. Be the bank of social privilege that URMs can draw from. Lend your support, your words, your body and intellect–just don’t silence us when you take these actions. Real allyship is giving us the space, the platform, and the social capital to be taken seriously within the academy and other predominantly white spaces. Real allyship is speaking up when you hear departmental colleagues or peers say bigoted things, intervening when URMs are forced into unsafe situations by someone else’s exclusionary behaviors, and lending your privilege to us when we need it. You-especially white male academics- are literally part of the few in the academic setting who are taken at face value. Use that privilege to throw hands for us. There will even be moments when there will be no URMs on a committee: and then it can be your job to speak on our behalf, as well as encouraging those university bodies to add URMs.

Performative allyship is trash, because ultimately the performance isn’t actually about restorative justice towards URMs. It is about you and your feelings, about centering a majoritarian perspective over than of URMs. At best, performative allyship is getting yourself ego cookies using URMs as a tool. At worst, you are finding your own personal and professional fulfillment as an academic citizen at the expense of the minoritized populations who had turned to you for help, and that isn’t a good look. Allyship is not a label you call yourself or a pin you can place on your lapel. It is a series of actions that you commit yourself to doing, regardless of any direct personal benefit to yourself.

In the end, if you’re helping me, if you’re on committees with me, if we inhabit the same spaces: help me because I am a person. Help me because as the only Latina in your department, I will need an accomplice when department members misname me or when bigots open their mouths at seminar. Don’t talk over me, don’t walk over my hands, and don’t trip all over the both of us in your rush to show me or your tenure committee what a trustworthy “ally” you are.

 

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2 thoughts on “Performative allyship isn’t what I need from you, white men.

  1. So YOU are a human being. White men are defined only by the color of their skin and the dangli bits. You are honest and supportive of URM for humanitarian reasons. White men do it only because it looks good in their tenure packages.

    Usually I laugh when people claim reverse discrimination, but you remind me that it is alive and well. Maybe that’s why you don’t get honest allies. Treat people with respect if you want respect.

    • I usually laugh at comments as insipid as this one. Reverse racism isn’t real–URMs have no structural power over you. We literally cannot oppress you. The feeling you are describing at being held accountable, is discomfort. Sit in your discomfort, and learn for once.

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