How Outsiders Can Become Allies

Chris Matthews' rant over the GOP and race inspired this advice on how to support groups you don't belong to.

(The Root) — “You’re being divisive!”

When I raised the racial issues I saw in the Occupy Movement, I was barraged by accusations of being divisive. We have to work together, my critics said. Identity politics is bad, they tweeted. It’s not about these differences; it’s about the big banks, they said.

While I didn’t necessarily disagree (although I am 100 percent pro-identity politics), I did find the idea that I was being divisive because I’d voiced concerns to be problematic. My critics claimed that Occupy was working toward racial justice; how could I say these things about people who were allies?

The answer: easily.

The idea of allies in social-justice battles isn’t new. An Ally (I’ll capitalize it to identify it as a title) is one who doesn’t belong to the persecuted group but nevertheless seeks justice and equality for them through support and action. White Allies marched with Martin Luther King Jr. Male Allies fought, or fight, alongside women for equal opportunity. Straight and “Cisgender” Allies protest and voice their opposition against the unequal treatment of the LGBT community.

Oftentimes the marginalized need Allies in order to achieve their goals because of their small numbers relative to the population. Allies swell ranks and create a chorus of dissent, and together they force change to occur.

The subject of Allies should be weighing heavily in the social-justice discussion right now. On Monday, MSNBC host Chris Matthews directly confronted the Republican National Committee’s chairman, Reince Preibus, on the GOP’s racially tinged attacks on Barack Obama and the dog-whistle attributes of certain ads. Many within the black community, myself included, praised Matthews.

But I would be remiss not to acknowledge his #AllyFail in the past. He’s made problematic offhand comments here and there, but he famously stepped into the fire when, after President Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2010, he stated, “For an hour I forgot Obama was black.” Not seeing color isn’t a compliment. It implies that if you did see my color, there could be an issue — but since you don’t, now I can be looked at as equal.