I Am #TeamHarpy
I ally myself with Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus. Lisa and nina are friends of mine and colleagues who are facing a SLAPP suit to silence their frank and open discussion of another colleague's behavior. While there is a lot to be said about the case and the deep-rooted conditions in our professional culture that are behind it, this post is a personal meditation on what it means to ally with others.
The Ally Label
I don’t like to describe myself as an ally. It feels more like a marketing campaign than a positive action. Still, I don’t have a better term to describe collaborating with the oppressed to work towards justice. With the way the world is organized, I’m much more likely to benefit from injustice than to be a target of it. So, when I read @evilangela’s words about this on Twitter, they resonated.
@evilangela: "Ally" only has any meaning when used as a verb. As a noun, it's meaningless, self-congratulatory bullshit.
I’ve also been thinking about nina de jesus’ clear and sharp words about finding herself on the front lines of a fight for justice. She framed her involvement in a way that helps me frame my support.
#TeamHarpy has my support, but I’m not their ideal supporter. I'm biased and I my internal censor is unreliable in its advice on when to speak and when to be silent. I also am more interested in where we disagree than were we safely agree and so I focus on divisive issues. I have to wrestle my stubborn independence in order to be a team player and I'm more concerned with avoiding fundamentalism than I am with enforcing what’s good. I'm also complicit in the problem. I'm trying to be the best colleague I can, but I’m a flawed human and the product of an oppressive culture. I’m trying to be part of a solution but my intentions go astray and I’m not always guided by the better angels of my nature.
Researching the Topic
In the past after I had asked for help sorting through a different situation , I was guided to Community Change Incorporated and their excellent resources on social justice, including insights into how to support justice efforts in productive ways. These, plus voices for social justice on Twitter have guided my thinking. I have been guided by wiser minds and I’m curating what I’ve learned from them in this post. I don’t claim credit for any wisdom, but all of the faults are mine.
These are points I'm using to keep me from getting swept away in a movement. While there are other thoughts out there for how to do good work, these are mostly about avoiding common mistakes.
- I'm complicit in the problem.
It's tempting to hide my guilt behind enthusiasm for the cause, but changing teams doesn’t change who I am.
- I don’t just benefit from the problem, I participate in it.
This is not a confessional (see point 3) but I have behaved badly and will again despite my best efforts to the contrary. So any self-righteousness I feel is going to be a kind of hypocrisy.
- The problem is bigger than my feeling bad about something, so its resolution can’t be the first thing that stops me from feeling bad.
If I stop allying with others at the point I stop feeling bad about the injustice, I’m less useful as an ally than if I simply ignored the injustice in the first place.
- I need to own my risks.
Sometimes the best action is for me to speak up. Sometimes the best action is for me to shut up and listen. It may be up to others to decide which choice was best, but the choice and the risk are always mine. It takes courage to stand for one’s values, in front of friends as much as in front of foes, but I’m not bringing anything useful to the table if I’m not willing to own my risks.
- It’s not about me.
I’m not responsible for finding the solution, (even though I should participate.) I’m not responsible for the problem, (even though I’m complicit.) If I’m allying myself with others, it’s not about me. If it is about me, I’m not really allying myself with others, am I?
These are the best thoughts I can gather on allying with #TeamHarpy and other movements. I didn’t invent them and I don’t embody them particularly well, but they sum up what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to avoid doing.