Allies on McGall campus rallied together under a unified voice as several events were held last Thursday and Friday as part of Ally Days at McGall. The first annual ally-specific event included workshops and panels that openly addressed topics such as self-congratulation, deliberate misreading of personal narratives, and telling other people how to identify.
National Ally Day (November 14) was only instituted six years ago, but has a long unofficial history of allies everywhere vigorously agreeing with each other over the dynamics of oppression. The event was organized by the McGall chapter of the Quebec Political Action and Research Group on Humanism (QPARGH), and facilitated by the Students’ Headquarters of McGall University (SHMU).
QPARGH Action Coordinator, Ann White-Pearson, explained that Ally Days at McGall was conceived as a way to address the systemic undervaluing of allies. “You hear a lot of gay people, for example, talking about gay issues. And I think a lot of people wonder, ‘What about straight people’s opinion of gay issues?’ That’s the kind of critical direction we tried to take with these workshops.”
“McGall is one place where I definitely don’t feel allies are given enough space,” White-Pearson said. “If I want to talk about the ways disabled people are underrepresented, why can’t I do that? I’m told that I’m ‘talking over’ people by explaining their feelings to others. I think that’s a serious problem.”
“Steps to More Effective Self-Back-Patting”
“It’s a powerful experience to have a good cry about oppression sometimes,” Jack Lemoore said as he began his workshop. “I sometimes like to imagine what it must be like to face microaggressions and it gets me so worked up, I just–” Lemoore then broke off for a moment, pressing a closed fist against his lips and looking off to the side, tears beginning to form in his eyes. “I just get really emotional, and really inspired to do good.”
The workshop was introduced as a way to help allies feel affirmed in their support of marginalized people. Lemoore detailed several strategies for “totally empathizing” with the victims of daily oppression. One suggestion was to “refuse to take no for an answer” in demanding information from marginalized people. Lemoore explained, “The only way you’re going to learn about intersectionality is by getting emotional, personal testimonies from people, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
“As an ally, your most important job is to be a voice for those who have no voice,” Lemoore explained. “You just have to tell everybody that even though you’re not part of that group, you really get it. You are an ambassador for those people.” Lemoore himself is a proud ally of ‘LGBT’ people (though he largely referred to gay men), and is “definitely close” with “at least three” queer people.
When the workshop opened for questions, one unidentified attendee said, “You realize that you’re taking up space that marginalized people could use to speak for themselves, right?” Lemoore answered, “Huh?”
“Identity Crisis: Living with Allyship”
This panel discussion opened with a heartfelt description of the coming-out process for Lemy Tok, a self-described ally of people with mental illnesses. “I gained a real understanding for what it’s like to be mentally ill,” Tok said. “One of my friends is bipolar and I found myself really inspired by her courage when I saw her taking her medication one day. It was a huge moment for me.”
Tok went on to describe the gradual process of telling his friends about his support for people with mental illnesses. His sentiments were mirrored by the other panelists, who had similar stories of inspiration and realization after encounters with marginalized people.
Another panelist, Manny Feals, described the hardships of dealing with marginalized people who “demand attention,” and of being shamed for her allyship. “People have sarcastically asked if I ‘want a cookie for saying that trans* people are people,’ and I find that really hurtful. I don’t know why it’s okay to tell me to ‘stop talking and listen to trans* people.’ As a woman, I already understand how oppression works, so I don’t need to be lectured that way.”
One suggested method for dealing with such discrimination included taking breaks from allyship, as it would be “ridiculous” to assume that one could just always be a vocal supporter of marginalized people.
“Pedantry for Fun and Profit: Using the Dictionary to Derail”
“We all know that racism is bad,” began Julian Pettifogger, a member of the Canada-wide group Pedants of Privilege. “But what exactly does racism mean?” Pettifogger went on to list several incredibly banal dictionary definitions of racism as a belief that races have inherent differences that can be used as a means to discriminate against some. “So in this simple exercise, we’ve already proven that racism can be used in any direction. As allies, the dictionary is a powerful tool.”
Building on his original example, Pettifogger further explained the uses of essentialism when engaging with marginalized people. “If, for instance, your friend of colour says they’re really ‘tired of white people,’ you need to call them out on that, because that’s a form of racism, as we’ve seen in the dictionary.”
Pettifogger dispelled the notions that one should accept that reality is not necessarily married to description and strict definition. “Let’s not get carried away by vagueities about ‘power’ and ‘intersectional dynamics’ now, these all have specific connotations that should not be misconstrued just because somebody’s feelings are hurt.”
When asked his opinion on constructed words to define specific identities (the example given was ‘genderqueer’), Pettifogger said, “Oh, come on. We can’t just make words up and expect people to know what they mean. Language doesn’t just evolve new vocabulary like that, which is why we’re all still speaking Middle English right now. Er, wait…” Pettifogger then excused himself for the remainder of the workshop time.