Being an Ally: Taking a Bullet

I can empathize with people's refusal to accept their privilege. That is, I can understand their situation, feelings, and motives for wanting to hold on to the privileges that come from oppressive systems. I struggle with confronting my own privileges everyday. However, since I feel working to divest ourselves of privilege is so important I have to admit I don't have much sympathy for those situations, feelings, and motives that lead us to believe that giving up privilege is too extreme or impossible. I can't accept excuses for our privileges that need interrogation and intervention. In terms of veganism and human privilege, the backlash goes that being a strict vegetarian who refuses to consume flesh, eggs and milk products is asking too much. But if we want to end human supremacy and speciesism, I think that a radical plant-based diet is only the beginning. After all, it's not like we're being asked to take a bullet for nonhuman animals.

However, I think in a way that confronting privilege – be it the privileges of being human, White, male, rich/middle-class, heterosexual, cissexual, citizen, able, adult, and/or colonizer – really needs to come to the point where, as anti-oppression allies, we're willing to take a bullet for those who are being exploited. After all, those privileges we enjoy are the result of the violent assault of oppression the target others. So, in a way, privilege isn't so much an invisible knapsack, as it is a form of bulletproof armor. At least in a figurative sense (but sometimes literally), the privileges we enjoy are bullets of exploitation that target oppressed groups.

While promoting a White anti-racist study group, my co-facilitator and I had a conversation with a Black woman who rightfully expressed skepticism about the sincerity of White folks organizing a study group on racism. She justifiably doubted that we would give up our privilege. At one point during the conversation she asked us if we were willing to "take a bullet" for her. I was honestly caught off guard by this, and since I wasn't prepared for that kind of question I stammered something that only betrayed my insincerity and internal confusion. My partner in organizing the study group was obviously better prepared than I and said he is working on it.

What really unnerved me wasn't the question – it wasn't that I thought I would have to literally "take a bullet" for this woman – it was how I felt exposed for being hypocritical. I knew that because I'm White that White supremacy in a sense makes me bulletproof to the everyday racism that she experiences as a person of color. I also knew that being an ally and working to divest myself of White privilege means reducing the effectiveness of my bulletproofed Whiteness. It means putting myself in the line of fire, instead of standing on the sideline while oppression continues. Being an ally actually means I'm no longer willing to allow others to be the target of bullets for my benefit.

When we're bulletproof it's too easy to sit back while others are being blown away; it's too easy to ignore our privilege. Being bulletproof makes us insensitive to oppression others experience. As long as we're attached to our privileges we'll be compelled to hold on to those systems that protects us from the very oppression and violence those same systems directs at others. I think being an anti-oppression ally means divesting ourselves of the privilege that requires others to take bullets for our benefit. It means dropping our bulletproof armor so that we become more sensitive to the affects of oppression on others.

Re: Being an Ally: Taking a Bullet

I don't want this to detract from what you are saying about being aware of our privilege and how that means we are not in the line of fire because that is certainly square one. But another thought to explore is the idea of liberating ourselves from being oppressors.

There is a tremendous cost that comes along with the privileges (not all of which are "privileges" in terms of things to be valued or aspire to). Like it's easy to see all that men have to give up in order to have male privilege, and I think more emphasis needs to be placed on making visible the cost of being white and maintaining whiteness. Every time a white person backlashes, all the energy necessary to maintain that privilege is made visible.

I can't liberate people of color, nor do I think I should try. I can only liberate myself. Moreover, since I'm the one shooting, I'm the one with the power to stop firing.

In terms of speciesism, there is a lot of liberation work to do in terms of humans accepting ourselves as animals and not constantly trying to run away from that and devalue all that isn't human.