Bono is Glamour’s Man of the Year — on a list for Women of the Year. You may be asking yourself why a man has been honored with this award, and trust me, you’re not the only one. Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive defended this choice by saying “[T]here are so many men who are doing really wonderful things for women these days,” adding that “some men get it and Bono is one of those guys.”
Believe me, I have no qualms with male feminists, nor do I have any with the concept of allyship in general. But I do have a problem with allies being pat on the head for standing with oppressed peoples. Not only is the act of doing so applauding mediocrity, it has very disturbing implications for the marginalized.
Social justice has gone mainstream in recent years. It’s now “in” to be progressive, whether this means decorating your Twitter bio with #blacklivesmatter or hanging pride flags from your window. Of course, actions like these aren’t inherently wrong, and in fact can be a way to make those persecuted within society feel a little bit more welcome.
The problem is when the bare minimum is praised, exalting those unaffected by certain strains of bigotry for essentially no reason. Men don’t deserve a pat on the back for supporting women. Cis people don’t deserve a medal for standing up for trans rights. White people don’t deserve a treat for not being racist (in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”). Accordingly, allies shouldn’t be commended for acting like decent human beings.
This sort of mentality leads to social justice being used as a tool for self-righteousness. I dread to think of the white people in my life who’ve regarded me as a prop for proving they’re not racist. Perhaps this is the core issue with worshipping allies; it turns the subjugated into mere objects used to show the “goodness” of a person.
A perfect example of this would be the savior-complex common among white people volunteering in Africa. Again, helping those less fortunate than you isn’t necessarily bad. It only becomes problematic when those “helping” deify themselves or are deified by others. Anyway, the attention should never be shifted to those unburdened by discrimination. By awarding allies instead of focusing on the oppressed, you do exactly that.
Needless to say this piece isn’t to criticize allyship in its innate form. You should support marginalized groups, even if you don’t personally belong to them. However, celebrating allies for doing the right thing is a misstep. You don’t (or at least you shouldn’t) get special treatment for acting with basic decency.