Jorge is a friend who just happens to be Mexican; he is not my Mexican friend. At first glance, this may seem to be a statement of political correctness. It really is not. It’s a statement of fact. We discussed this last week and he suggested it as something to mention on this blog.
Here’s another statement some folks might use, “Some of my best friends are Mexicans (or blacks, or Asians, etc.)” This one can be an identifier of bigotry or jingoism. If you’re a member of a minority, you instantly know this sentence is a major red flag.
When I state accurately that Jorge is a friend who just happens to be Mexican, it is a fact because I have several friends who just happen to be of Mexican or Hispanic ancestry. Jorge is someone for whom being Mexican is just another aspect of the man. It’s an aspect that has come into sharper focus because of the recent resurgence of anti-Hispanic rhetoric and exclusion directed towards people like my friend.
I’m sensitive to these words because I’ve been the subject of similar cringe-worthy statements. If someone says that I’m their gay friend, alarm bells go off in my head. I wonder if I was chosen to play the role of their trophy friend. Being a trophy friend is not a deep, abiding social role. We can compare it to men who have “trophy wives” or token friends of various other backgrounds. Being a trophy gay or Mexican or whomever feels superficial and unpleasant. This sort of friendship is certainly not one of being allies.
The United States is a nation made up of several subcultures and micro-communities within those subcultures. Members of these groups are sensitive to people who disregard and dislike them. We people of minority status are cognizant of efforts from people who want to “help” us out of religious or political motivation. People who are so motivated do not understand that we neither need nor want to be helped or “saved”. We appreciate friends who are true friends and allies.
An ally is someone who has an active and consistent practice of honestly evaluating actions and beliefs. An ally is a person who seeks friendship or work with marginalized individuals and groups. Allyship implies a two-way relationship. The marginalized person also evaluates her or his own beliefs and stereotypes about people who belong in the majority. The communication is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Being an ally is always a work in progress. Difficult issues will arise from time to time. Personal beliefs may get in the way of compassion. Judgments will spontaneously appear in the minds of both parties. Allies speak up to each other in dialogue to challenge one another about difficult issues and iron them out. This is how real friends interact.
One of the benefits of being allies is the opportunity to cultivate meaningful cross-cultural interaction and true understanding. Allies deepen their understanding of the experiences of other people and become aware of the injustices that fester in society and our nation.
I am grateful to know many allies. They’re very special people.