Facing Backlash as an Ally
In a previous post, I discussed how hard it can be to be an ally. You face defensiveness and backlash from many different sides. People will question your intentions and will even insult you with the intent of silencing and harming you. It comes from all angles and it can be hurtful.
This post is meant to give you some tools to keep yourself on the right path and to disarm those who try to argue with and bully you.
I don’t think that people who are fighting you on your stance for inclusion and equity are ACTUALLY being positive. This tool is for you and not them. Assume that they do not know better and that they might really want to learn something. I’ll walk you through a scenario where I had to use all the tools:
Uncle Tawny and I are talking about someone being bitten by a black widow. Uncle Tawny yells, “Am I even allowed to say BLACK widow anymore, or is that racist?”
I have to take a deep breath. This guys is always trying to challenge me. Every time I see him he wants to get into it with me about how he is the “bad guy” now. He’s a White Male and everyone hates him.
In order not to tell him where to shove this conversation, I have to assume that he REALLY wants to talk about this. That his rude and obnoxious behavior, in a bar, at a party, is really a cry for help. He’s being confrontational and I am not in the mood. But assuming that there is something really here disarms me and helps me move to the next phase.
“He’s being confrontational and I am not in the mood. But assuming that there is something really here disarms me and helps me move to the next phase.”
“Questions disarm people and activates their brains to think, especially if you are asking to understand their answer. Make sure you want to hear the answer and are willing to discuss what you learn.”
You have every right to walk away from this whole conversation. In my example, I did for a minute because I was having fun. But this guy, like they often do, brought it up again later. It’s a habit of Whiteness to just force an issue. There’s a narcissist tendency in White culture to badger, bully, and harass someone to continue to talk.
When this happens to you can walk again. You can lay down a boundary for yourself and say, “I just don’t want to get into this with you right now.”
Or, you can ask questions. I asked this question, “Do you really want to have this conversation right now, or can we wait until a different time?” Questions slow people down and activates their brains to think, especially if you are asking truly understand their answer. Make sure you want to hear the answer and are willing to discuss what you learn.
He ignored that question and said, “I’m just saying I’m not allowed to do anything anymore. I grew up in a diverse community and plenty of my friends let me talk any way I want.”
I asked him, “Have you asked your “diverse” friends if they are okay with how you talk?”
He said for the most part. Then I asked him if he respected me. That threw him off. He said he has respect for everyone but he is the one being disrespected all the time in the media and everywhere else because he’s a White guy.
I said, “Okay, you are saying you respect me and I really don’t want to talk about this now. It feels like you really just want to make a point to me. If you respect me, we can set up a time to really talk about this.” This is called balanced inquiry. You are advocating for yourself, while also asking real questions to move the conversation.
Other questions you can ask when being confronted:
- “How do you think your actions might have affected (someone they offended)?”
- “What do you lose if you stop saying (racist phrase)?”
- “Do you think you might be feeling something that BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and differently-abled people have always felt?”
- “Do you want to have a conversation with me, or an argument?”
- “I’m learning how to be an ally, and I don’t know everything about it, are you looking to learn with me?”
“Social isolation is one of our brains biggest fears. We are conditioned to be social and have large human networks for survival. Cutting off from people who are damaging to your heart can be harder than taking the abuse, but sometimes it’s the only way to make change for yourself.”
Find Your People and Have Boundaries
Something I am learning as I grow in this work (and I have a doctorate in this for crying out loud) is that people will be abusive. I don’t know people who are going to be outright racist to my face. Everyone I know understands that I do not tolerate that, but it does exist. Just read Hush Money to understand how that plays out for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and differently-abled people daily. But there are people who are scared and angry and they will completely take it out on you as an ally. Walk away from them.
Social isolation is one of our brains biggest fears. We are conditioned to be social and have large human networks for survival. Cutting off from people who are damaging to your heart can be harder than taking the abuse, but sometimes it’s the only way to make change for yourself.
Find people who are in this work with you. The glory of the internet is that there are thousands of places to begin to connect with others who are supporting an inclusive and equitable world. These groups will teach you the language you can use to keep yourself psychologically safe and build a new space for yourself. Fear will happen sometimes, but breathe through that and move into something more fulfilling and glorious than being around people who are trying to battle you on a regular basis.
And remember that surrounding yourself with like-minded allies is a privilege. BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and differently-abled people do not have the luxury of moving away from this constant abuse.
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