What is the Powder Room?

On Allies and In-Groups

So, can we discuss something for a second? Something kind of serious and contentious?

Allies. People who are on the side of your cause. Friends. Members of the in-group. Whatever you want to call them, they are people who are fighting for the same things you are. So why do we so often see allies in a contentious light? Why don't we simply sit back and say, "it's awesome that this person is picking up the standard and charging into the same battles as I am!" Why are we sometimes uncomfortable when someone who is unlike us fights with us and sometimes in our stead?


This came to my attention today and yesterday as a couple of articles proceeded to blast Macklemore for his open and now-popular stance on LGBTQ issues. From openly gay rappers to authors here on Jezebel, people have been arguing that his not actually being gay is somehow a problem. It was even posited that two bisexual female artists had the same problem.

I countered that if his being heterosexual is a problem, then my being a man who comments on Jezebel is a problem as well. It is therefore a problem of all so-called "allies." And if that's the case, where does that leave us?

If we're honest for a second, however, all "allies" can say that we are potentially problematic in a group whose issues we do not necessarily share. That awareness is merely admitting that we are profoundly limited as beings, and we sometimes need to shut the heck up. But that doesn't mean we should be turning inward on those same people. I want to present a thesis on the notion of "allies" and why I think that attacking them is backwards and counterproductive. Let me be clear here: these are my opinions, and I welcome people to disagree with me. I realize fully that this is a contentious subject, but I believe that this is a topic worth discussing.

The limitations of human experience

Let's be clear here: no matter how hard I try, and no matter how empathetic I am, I can never truly share the experiences of my wife or any woman for that matter. I can never truly understand things in the same way as a black person. I can empathize and say, "I understand what it means to not be a typical WASP living in America," but outside of that I am limited to what I know and have experienced.


And that's fine. That doesn't make me "bad." It means that I, as someone who wants to improve life for others, must be aware of my limitations and not burden others with those same limitations.

However, that also means that we cannot always expect that a person, no matter how well-meaning and "aware," will sometimes drop the ball and be really stupid to your situation. You've done it. I've done it. We've all done it. So when someone who otherwise has shown great intentions and actions screws up, take the time to inform them and work them through their errors. We all have gaps, and helping others fill those gaps is an opportunity to make life better for everyone.


The importance of allies unlike us

What is the point of having social movements to gain acceptance in a wider demographic if we exclude wider demographics? Having diverse groups in allied circles helps bring in new perspectives, new ideas, and creates a network effect whereby people of many backgrounds get involved in the same issue.


I'm not saying that feminism should become a man-dominated issue, but instead that having men on board helps educate men, who will in turn take their experiences as men and educate other men as well. The lessons I learn on this and other sites are lessons I can now take with me to places like Kotaku or reddit, and transmit to others as well.

So, one example of this for me personally has always been how much I love it when non-Jews get involved in things like Holocaust remembrance and Jewish community issues. Why should I, despite being Jewish, care if someone else is going to stick their neck out for an issue that affects me? What do I gain by shooing that person out?


It doesn't matter if you did it first, or second, or whenever: what matters is that it gets done

Does it invalidate the message that Macklemore is broadcasting if there were gay artists who wrote songs similar to Macklemore's before his song became a hit? Don't shoot the messenger. Yeah, it sucks that sometimes it takes a privileged person to get the message across. But acting like the message is now worse because that privileged person got it across is petty and misses the point.


Did you say it first? Great! Are you also a member of the group that the message is about? Even better! But sometimes you gotta just be happy for other people's successes, and even happier that their success means that the message is being spread. If it's the case that someone is actively trying to drown out someone else, then you can criticize them. But even then, don't criticize the message— it muddies the waters. If a niche artist stays niche forever, how can that message spread to the masses, who are ultimately the arbiters of social mores?

None of us has a monopoly on the message.

Looking Gift Horses in the Mouth

Fun fact: one way to tell if a horse is old is to check to see if their gums are receding, which gave rise to the phrase, "long in the teeth" for something old. Hence why you don't "look a gift horse in the mouth." If you're being given a gift, why do you care how it looks or where it came from or how old it is? Why do you care, unless your point is to show it off? In other words, why are we questioning the character of the people who are trying to help us out, if not to be petty and make this into a form of pageantry?


If the issue is what matters, then focus on the issue.

So yeah, can we stop fighting one another for a minute and get back to giving a shit about the things that actually matter, which is not how great we all are?

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