cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

Reflecting on being an ally

I had an awesome day today. A big event I've been working on for weeks took place, and ran incredibly smoothly and with a positive vibe. I'm really pleased -- hopefully it signals a productive and happy year to come.

But surprisingly that wasn't the best part of my day.

About a year ago, I managed to be a completely insensitive, racist asshole to this poor guy at a bus stop. He was so sad and angry because several people had treated him terribly unfairly and abused him with racist slurs. So he was venting, saying stuff like, "Australians are so racist." Perfectly reasonable, given what had happened.

Anyway, I did that stupid defensive thing, and said, "That's terrible, but not all Australians are like that."

He, again perfectly reasonably, went silent and gave me the hairy eyeball, and escaped onto his bus. With a sinking feeling I realised that I'd just tacitly endorsed the racist behaviour he'd been talking about. I felt about an inch high, and I vowed never to do that again.

Today, I was feeling pretty mellow on my way home, spending most of the bus ride reflecting on what went well, and how I could improve the event when it's run again. When I got off, I was standing at the intersection waiting to cross the road, and this guy started telling me about the racist abuse he'd got that day. He was clearly bursting with indignation, and rightly so.

And I said, "That sucks! You must have felt terrible. I'm ashamed you had to experience that."

Look, there's no win in a situation like this -- he still experienced the shitty racist dude who ruined his day. But his whole body language changed the minute I finished speaking. He smiled at me, and starting telling me about how he was working to stop the deaths of First Peoples in custody, and I asked some questions, because his story was really interesting, and then told him about what I teach in my classroom.

In the end, he went off home with a spring in his step, and I learned some new things about human rights.

I think that's just about as close as you can get to a win/win in that situation, and I'm so happy I didn't make his day suck more!

You know what, though? I really wanted to ask why he picked me, out of all the people on the street he could have spontaneously vented to, especially as it's happened before. Is it body language? Affect? Expression? Clothing? I'd really like to know, but it wasn't appropriate to ask.

How have all of you been going with trying to be good allies? This is one of the biggest challenges of my life, and I'd really appreciate hearing other people's stories of their failures, and what they learned from them, and their successes. It would be really useful to know more of the traps before I fall into them, and have more positive strategies to call on.

I'm turning anonymous commenting on, as I know this is a difficult subject, especially when we're reflecting on how we failed to be good allies. Please keep the conversation respectful.

This entry was originally posted at
Tags: discussion, ethics
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