Why I Can’t Say I’m An Ally

[BlogHer.com featured this post at http://www.blogher.com/why-i-can-t-say-i-m-ally, where it’s followed by a number of reader comments.] 

As a white queer feminist anti-racist, I believe it’s not my place to state that I’m an ally to people of color (POC). What I can say is that I strive to be an ally and it’s my job to keep learning what POC consider an ally. The single most important way to learn this is to listen, and as a feminist, I am particularly committed to listening to women of color.

Following the tremendous public outcry when a stunningly oblivious Ani DiFranco announced her upcoming songwriting retreat would be held at the largest slave-built-and-run plantation in the antebellum south, she cancelled instead of moving the event, and then wrote what I found to be a defensive non-apology with the tone of someone who believes herself to be a victim.

As a holder of white privilege, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing this series of events  as an opportunity to listen and learn rather than suffer the degrees of hurt, anger, and frustration about which countless women of color (WOC) are taking their valuable time to speak out about. Many, many WOC feel that white feminists have failed to fathom their lives and perspectives, struggles and concerns, and that this incident provides a very public in-their-face example. This is an issue that deeply concerns me. Until now, with the exception of a few comments on Facebook, I’ve chosen to shut up and listen.

I’d like to share a few links to some powerful voices belonging to both women of color and white feminists (including a white male) on the subjects of racism, intersectionality, whiteness, and more. As you read, I invite you to read more slowly than you usually do and to pay careful attention to what’s being said—to focus on hearing and absorbing these perspectives. Personally, if I’m reading and start to argue in my head with a particular statement, or I’m beginning to feel offended somehow (often signaled by a shot of adrenaline), I take notice. If I find myself wanting to debate, I ask myself why? These voices deserve to be heard and white America needs to listen.

I invite you to sit down with me here in the audience. Since this is not a conversation in a personal relationship, classroom or kitchen, office or on the street—we’re simply sitting in the audience—we can consider stepping back from the impulse to quickly contribute our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. When it comes to racism, it’s possible that the impulse to challenge what’s being said before the speaker is done speaking and before we’ve taken time to really think about what they’re saying is a way to protect ourselves from facing something that’s very uncomfortable or even painful.

The need to debate rather than listen may be about a need for power. And since the subject of racism inevitably boils down to the issue of power, it’s important for readers who hold white privilege to step back from the control we might want (consciously or unconsciously) by arguing about something that we can never personally experience—what it’s like to be a person of color in the United States of America.

Please note: this is a short list but one of the links is to a page of links. For one reader, this brief list may constitute a helpful review. For another, it may be an introduction. All I can say is that I’ve found these voices to be helpful.  

5 Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism

This is a good place to start, especially if you’re a white feminist—regardless of your gender identification and orientation.


The Angry Black Woman:

This collective of three writers includes one who uses the alias “The Angry Black Woman.” The first link alone is enough to fill a syllabus.

Required Reading: http://theangryblackwoman.com/required-reading

What is Racism? http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/2006/09/18/monday-debate-what-is-racism/#comment-293

Angry Black Woman’s in-depth comment that functions as an essential article in this discussion: http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/2006/09/18/monday-debate-what-is-racism/#comment-293

For Harriet:

Kimberly N. Foster is the publisher and editor-in-chief of For Harriet as well as other online media properties for women of color.



Tim Wise:

A white anti-racist male writer and educator.



First Lies


The New Civil Rights Movement has just reprinted “First Lies,” a poem from my book titled Hidden Drive. Click on the logo to find it there with a photo by Vivian Felten.

An early version of “First Lies” appeared in The Community News (2003), the newsletter of the GLBT Community Center Project of Western Massahuestts, for which I was a contributing writer. Unfortunately for Northampton, the Community Center eventually had to close its doors. While it lasted, I was proud to contribute this poem and a column titled ”Love vs. Straight Supremacy.”

The poem appears in  “Riddled,” the third section of my book, which is about same-sex marriage.

Crash Course: Holidays, Racism, & How to Apologize

A few thoughts and meditations on Halloween and various other holiday costumes and jokes that one might want to reconsider:

1) If I’m ignorant of the ways in which my action is stereotyping and/or mocking, I’m still stereotyping and/or mocking. My ignorance of context does not change the nature of my action;

2) Describing myself as “ignorant” about something is not self-deprecating but a simple statement of fact—that I have something to learn;

3) My personal experiences of prejudice (homophobia, sexism, classism, etc) do not trump my white privilege;

4) The process of listening and considering other folks’ perspectives and experiences—especially when they are  different from my own—is more important than any inconvenience or discomfort I may experience. Rather than “walking on eggshells,” this is an opportunity to learn;

5) If I offend someone out of my own ignorance (of which I have plenty!), I can apologize and thank the person for taking their time and energy to say something. No, I will not say, “I’m sorry you felt that way.” Instead, I will take responsibility for my behavior by saying, “I’m sorry that I said/did ________________ and I will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Lastly, one of the teenagers in my life turned me on to this excellent video about how to apologize by Franchesca Ramsey (a.k.a. chescaleigh). Here’s what an authentic apology sounds like.

Check it out:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8xJXKYL8pU


The Clerk Says You Are Not (radio interview & reading)

Bob Flaherty from WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts interviewed me about the SCOTUS rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 for his morning radio show. Near the end of the interview, he asked me to read ”The Clerk Says You Are Not,” a poem slated from the book that I’m currently writing. Click their logo for a direct link to the interview.  

Free Speech? A High School’s Day Of Silence, Anti-Gay T-Shirts, Guns, And The ACLU

Are a high school student’s anti-gay, pro-gun activities creating a hostile environment for the students and staff of a Connecticut school the ACLU threatened to sue?

The anti-gay t-shirt that 17-year-old Seth Groody wore to protest last April’s national Day of Silence will continue to be allowed at Connecticut’s Wolcott High School, according to the principal and superintendent. In fact, Groody, who claimed in a YouTube video that he makes thousands of dollars selling airsoft guns, began selling anti-gay t-shirts and at least twelve of his friends purchased them to wear for this year’s Day of Silence. Click logo for a direct link.

The Clerk Says You Are Not

Inspired by recent marriage counter protests in numerous cities across the nation, I wrote this poem to read for Marriage Equality Rally (CT) which I recently started and co-organized as part of the United for Marriage: Light the Way to Justice coalition. The rally took place at the federal courthouse in Hartford, Connecticut on March 25, the eve before SCOTUS heard arguments regarding Proposition 8 and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). ”The Clerk Says You Are Not” is partly about my life now, partly about the visit I paid to a marriage counter before same-sex marriage was legal in Massachusetts,  and partly about the next visit I’ll be making to a marriage counter in Houston. The New Civil Rights Movement published it alongside photographer Vivian Felten’s photograph. Click on the logo for a direct link.

Marry Me In Texas: Part II — The Letter ‘M’

“My eyes repeatedly traced the letter’s path—the shape of a plot outline—and I began to imagine my new life as a man…”

This is the closest I’ve come to considering an FTM (female-to-male) life, & it’s the second in a series that I’m writing for The New Civil Rights Movement. What I didn’t say is that I regret my choice.
Click on the logo to check it out–& please “Like” & share!

Marry Me In Texas: Part I — The Likes Of Us

I have a dream of someday marrying the love of all my lives — in Texas. Of course, the hot, humid homeland I’m so loyal to isn’t loyal to me.

The New Civil Rights Movement “reprinted” this post (from my blog) as the first in a series!

Click on the logo to read Part 1.


Valentine’s Day: Hallmark, Heteros, & Other Threats To Marriage

You hear a lot these days about the dangers of marriages like mine, as if we pose some sort of infectious risk for the institution of marriage. But if Valentine’s cards are to be considered artifacts and evidence of the state of opposite-sex unions, straight marriage may be the greater danger. Click on the logo to check out my latest piece at The New Civil Rights Movement blog. A slightly different version of this post appeared here on my blog last year.


Homophobia at Home in Connecticut

As a citizen-anthropologist of sorts, I find small, local media outlets to be amusing, even fascinating, sometimes encouraging, & sometimes disturbing cultural “artifacts.” However, there are moments when the online debate over LGBT civil rights—or lack thereof—is simply painful. Click on the logo to check out my latest piece for The New Civil Rights Movement.