Friday, September 26, 2008

How to be a white ally (on America's Next Top Model:)

The setting: America's Next Top Model -- model's bedroom.

The main players:

Isis: a previously homeless black transwoman (or transgender woman).

Hannah: a white woman from Alaska (Yes, Governor Sarah Palin's "kingdom"). The offending white woman, who chooses denial over personal responsibility.

Hannah's response to the women of color who confronted her -- with inordinate compassion and self-restraint, I believe, even though they would have been justified in expressing anger or going completely ape shit on her -- is a glaring example of what *not* to do when someone identifies racism (and/or any other form of oppression) in your speech and/or actions. 

That said, it is interesting that the focus of the discussion with Hannah regarding her racist-genderist/transphobic actions seemed rest exclusively on her racism -- not her genderism, transphobia and heterosexism. Is that because the editors for America's Next Top Model cut that part of the conversation out? If yes, did they do so, in part, because they deemed stepping up as an ally to transwomen and transmen *less* interesting and/or important than resisting racism?

Also, Hannah's response to Isis nearly bumping into her in the hot tub wasn't merely racist -- it was a combination of racism, genderism/transphobia and heterosexism -- a blatantly, shamelessly bigoted act born of her ignorance, fear, and disrespect for Isis as a human being and fellow professional in the modeling competition.

What white allies do when challenged/confronted/criticized for having exhibited racist behavior or colluding in racism.

**White allies:

1) ask what they did/said that was perceived as racist
(instead of saying, "no, I'm not racist!"). In this way, white allies choose personal responsibility, not denial and defensiveness.

2) are willing to admit that her/his behavior/speech is racist. In this way, white allies embrace the discomfort that comes with admitting to having engaged/participated in racism. They also prepare themselves to change, to unlearn at least some of their racism, and to resist complicity (to the extent that they are able) in white supremacy.

3) they *privilege* the perspectives, views, opinions and experiences of people of color as *experts* on racism because it is people of color that are targeted by racism.

4) do far more listening than talking, and they do so non-defensively and compassionately.

5) do not carry the expectation that people of color or white allies will prioritize the offending white person's feelings by coddling them and/or by downplaying the offensiveness of the behavior/statement or agreeing with them that they did nothing wrong etc.,.

6) White allies don't willfully/intentionally enter into a psychological/emotional/intellectual state of denial by dismissing the folks who challenged/confronted/criticized them as over-reacting, delusional (i.e., "having made it all up in their heads; seeing what they *want* to see), angry or having a chip-on-their-shoulder.

7) White allies acknowledge that there is a sustaining link between individual racist acts and behaviors and institutional racism and white supremacy. Because they are white and because their whiteness permits them to access unearned, unexamined privileges (to varying degrees depending on class status, gender and sexual identity, ability etc.,), they accept that the conscious decision to *resist* collude in racism/white supremacy is a crucial contribution to struggles to end racism.

7) White allies *do not* stop at making apologies.

They educate themselves about the way in which racism operates on an institutional and individual level. They *do not* give themselves permission to 
*not* think about their racial privilege (or white privilege) -- they don't take a day off from acknowledging that they benefit from the racist oppression of people of color because they know that people of color *can't* take a day off from being targeted by racist oppression and living in a racist society.

**Please, if you believe I'm missing an important point on the "how to be a white ally" list, add to it!!

**Interesting and related blogs: 
    --"Transphobia in Feminism's Clothing" by angrybrownbutch

Please feel free to add to this list also!! (Thank you:)


Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to your take on the show Ugly Betty.

Have you seen the show? Are you aware of the trans character?

butchrebel said...

Hi "anonymous:" Well, what do you think of the show Ugly Betty? :)

I view the show as a political complex one. I will blog about that show sometime soon -- thanks for offering up a point of inspiration!

Anonymous said...

What a load of garbage no one cares about. People have more meaningful things to do with their time.