On Aspiring to Ally
Additional Experiences of a WhiteMale at the
Women of Color Network Summit and Conference
Today (Nov 14, 2018), is the first day of the Women of Color Network Call to action Summit and Conference. As many of you know, I currently serve on the Steering Committee of the North American MenEngage Network (NAMEN) and am here as NAMEN is a sponsor for this event, and I am here as their representative. I am deeply grateful to NAMEN for paying a portion of my expenses and allowing for me to attend.
I am happy – indeed thrilled – to be here and to do my part to support this critical event. I arrived in the morning to help with set up for the conference and the events beginning this evening. I was also asked by the Network to serve as unofficial photographer for the Summit. I know many of the folks who are on the WOCN staff and board and have been looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues I haven’t seen in some time. I also appreciate the opportunity to be of service, and not just take up space.
Two of the main opening events, for example, were designated as women of color only space. This opened up a potential conundrum. I understood that the organizers wanted to have the events documented, but also knew that my being in those women of color only spaces violated the sanctity of those spaces. We had several conversations during the day to determine what made the most sense – do I stay away, do I try to be there and be unobtrusive, do the Network folks ask the participants what they desired???
Being a whitemale who aspires to ally with Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, Middle Eastern and white women is an ongoing and emergent process. Typically, “ally” is presented as a noun – a description of a role or position that someone achieves. The Women of Color Network had defined folks who seek to fill this position as “aspiring allies” – referring to the notion that being an ally is not something that we necessarily achieves. Rather, it is a dynamic process that someone strives towards.
I think of allying as a verb. I do not so much become an ally, as I seek to ally with Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, Middle Eastern and white women — as well as with Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, Middle Eastern, and other white men — in order to counter and combat systemic and institutional oppression and degradation; and to promote human rights, centered on the experiences and lives of Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, and Middle Eastern women.
Allying is something I aspire to. Self-defining this as a role or position that I achieve is, in my opinion, another example of my privileges. I don’t get to decide whether or not I am an ally (of if one understands being an ally as a role or position), it is not my place to determine if and when I achieve that role/position. It is the experience and perspective of Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, and Middle Eastern women and men to determine if I am acting in alliance in regards to combatting racism; it is the experience and perspective to women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to decide if I am acting in alliance in combatting sexism.
I appreciate the wisdom and nuance from the Women of Color Network is defining this as aspiring. For me, this helps to capture, in part, another dynamic in relation to this conversation – that people sometimes disagree with each other. When I see being an ally (aspiring or not) as a role, I often find that I become more defensive when faced with criticism. This is particularly true when I can refer to some Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, and/or Middle Eastern women who support my claim of being an ally. But when I understand allying as an activity, I find that I am more open to criticism or disagreement from Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, Middle Eastern and white women. I don’t feel the same need to defend whether or not I am achieving a status and can be more authentically curious as to the ways that I am not successfully allying.
Allying is a process, and a process that I am in the midst of learning how to do. Receiving critical feedback is a part of my learning process.
It’s a process that I continue to learn from and about. I was raised to be a perfectionist. I have since learned and attempted to internalize the motto “practice makes progress.” I continue to practice allying. I am making progress but it is sometimes slow and the progress I make often falls short of the expectations I have for myself and the expectations I perceive others to have of me. Part of my struggle from the legacy of growing up to be a perfectionist – which is pronounced in this setting – is a sense of inadequacy.
The solution, for me, is not to attempt to deny or overcome my feelings of inadequacy. I spent far too long battling with my inadequacy which distracted me from acting in alliance. I find that when I can accept that there are, in fact, ways that I am inadequate then it stops being a battle and I can continue in my efforts to ally.
Which brings me back to my role as photographer for the Summit. There are those who can argue (rightfully) that given who I am and this event, I should have never accepted the opportunity to photograph here and instead should have worked to identify a Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, or Middle Eastern women to serve in this capacity; or that I should have decided on my own to honor the women of color only spaces and not put the Black women organizers to potentially undermine this safe space; or that I should have followed up in my role as photographer and follow up with what the Black women organizers had asked me to do without questioning them.
My point is not to suggest that allying is an impossible situation, but that rather that allying is a tremendous honor. Like most honors aspiring to ally with Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, and Middle Eastern women, involves multiple complexities and at times paradoxes in attempting to live into that honor.
© 2018 by Rus Ervin Funk
 While I am attending the Summit as a representative of NAMEN, this blog is mine and mine alone. I am not writing this as a spokesperson for NAMEN.