Developing Accomplices – Leaving Allies Behind

A few weeks ago as my two friends tied the knot, negative emotions began to percolate within me. I am admittedly on the fence about marriage, leaning toward having very little interest in the system, and I am always suspicious of cishet people. Being a marginalized individual can often make you suspicious of the people and traditions that fit within the mainstream. I have to admit that within my antiestablishment vigor, I have developed a streak of pessimism. This isn’t a post about bashing white/cis/heterosexual/conservative people; in fact it’s quite the opposite.

As I sat in the pews as my straight white Christian cis male friend awaited his bride, it started to click. I was actually invested in his happiness. My whole life has been about making space for myself, especially the last three years. I have been trying to blow up the idea of tradition that often excludes people who are fat, femme, brown, queer, especially should any of those identities intersect. White, male, cis, heterosexual people have often shaped our perceptions of tradition, and quite honestly when we look through the cracks, it shows. Regardless of this fact I sat in that church, I respected the ceremony, the prayers, the vows; I was emotionally invested.

At the reception, the groom’s father gave a speech that made me contemplate the importance of the relationship I share with my friends. See, my friend and his family are surprisingly conservative. I say surprisingly because our group of friends is filled with queers, godless heathens, and bleeding heart liberals (sometimes separately and often all at once!). I realized in that moment that when oppressive identities are found within someone I have no relationship with, I am able to dismiss them and disregard any obligation I may have to those people as fellow human beings. However, in this moment I realized that if it hadn’t been for our friendship, I might not be the person I am today, and my heterosexual, white, Christian male friend might not be as open as he is today.

That’s not to say I feel responsible for his actions, however I do feel responsible for the values he has developed over the years through the friendship we have fostered. It has not always been easy, it will never be easy, but I have to admit, when I saw him and his bride exchange vows, it truly put our relationship in perspective. I feel totally invested in the success of their union because I feel partially responsible for how their love manifests in this world. Love is powerful. Love can be dangerous. If you don’t believe some of the terrible things in the world happen out of love, think about a love of money, a love of self, a love of power; those loves definitely should be feared.

But there is a purity of love that I want to acknowledge here; the love that comes with mutual respect. I don’t think I could have come to this realization without Junot Diaz, who recently talked about the power humanity possesses when we decide to come together. Don’t mistake this post for a rallying cry to “reach across the isle”. Please continue to punch Nazis, please continue to call racists, racists. However, this is a rallying cry for all my marginalized beauties to stop seeking allies, and to develop relationships with people who can hopefully become accomplices. Develop the kinds of friendships where agreeing on everything isn’t necessary to acknowledge your humanity and make the right choices.

I have no doubt that my friend would support me when I need him. That’s not unique to him. Something they don’t tell you about going to predominantly white institutions (PWI) for your entire educational career is that 15+ years later those will be your same friends: white friends who don’t always get the emotional toll police brutality puts you through; heterosexual friends who don’t understand the complex emotions accompanied by acquiring marriage equality, but not job/housing/hate crime protection for queer people. While it is important to remember to uplift the voices of marginalized people, it is important for marginalized individuals to develop healthy relationships with those who may not share that marginalization, and those whose identifications intersect with whiteness, wealth, power and maleness. This of course includes romantic and sexual relationships, as well as platonic.

Again, I will reiterate that I am not putting the responsibility on marginalized individuals to seek out allies or become a doormat in the name of winning people over. The important message I seek to relay is that accomplices exist and sometimes we become part of their development through the friendships we invest in and the barriers we cross. The emotional burden of being the marginalized friend is exponentially more taxing than you can imagine. Accomplices, what we require of you is mindfulness, but also openness. We tire of being the library, the encyclopedia of experiential knowledge that expresses our worth. Marginalized individuals have to live within an oppressive society, but also are subject to decisions that treat our lives as hypotheticals. We need our accomplices to treat us as human beings with emotions, vulnerabilities, and righteous anger. Most of all, we need our accomplices to continue learning and growing; however, take a back seat and listen when you are out of your depth. I’m not sure if my friend will ultimately end up being an accomplice or an ally, but I will continue to nurture our friendship until I find out, first hand. Allies watch from the sidelines, offering platitudes and prayers; accomplices get in the trenches and throw punches when necessary. The better, brighter future requires us all to do our personal labor, as well as develop relationships worth fighting to keep.

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