Getting Real About Allyship

Drawing labeled "Be A Better Ally in 3 Easy Steps" from SJWiki

Image from SJWiki, copyrighted but used with Fair Use rationale, see here for details.

Each spring, ROOTEd (Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education) holds a series of events about allyship in social justice, otherwise known as Allies Series. The programming usually consists of an allyship 101 teach-in, a discussion, and a panel featuring activists and community organizers. Having been a ROOTEd Peer Facilitator for the past three years, I think this is some of the most meaningful work the group does.

Most fundamentally, allyship means aligning yourself with a person, cause, or movement with whom/which you don’t identify. This might look like a non-black person supporting Black Lives Matter. On a more interpersonal level, it might be naming an oppressive comment a friend makes for what it is when neither of you experience that particular oppression. ROOTEd emphasizes ‘ally’ as a verb over ‘ally’ as a stable identity. Allyship is proven through continuous and active engagement, not through mere identification, which can lead to appropriation of struggle. Self-proclaimed allies who latch on to the identity but don’t actively challenge oppression, whether by redistributing resources or educating themselves and their communities, are a disservice to what allyship could and should look like.

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No Such Thing as Neutral

On November 8, 2014, members of the Flex and Lite Feet dance communities joined Ali Rosa-Salas ’13 for a lecture demonstration and discussion. NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL highlights movement-based artists who engage notions of subjectivity and materiality of the body in their work while utilizing the technical formalities of Abstraction. The project celebrates Flex and Lite Feet, looking at their evolution and the indelible impact they have had in the contemporary dance world. At the event, Rosa-Salas engaged Flex and Lite Feet dancers in a spirited discussion about their artistry, their techniques, and their personal experiences dancing a style considered “street” in a dance world that values formal training and classical technique.

NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL is the culmination of Rosa-Salas’s year-long work as a 2014 Barnard Alumni Fellow with BCRW. Much of Rosa-Salas’s research is interested in examining what she calls the false and problematic binary between “formal” dances and “street” or “vernacular” dances. The “formal” side of this binary houses ballet and modern techniques; “street” or “vernacular” styles like tap, jazz, hip-hop, voguing, Flex and Lite Feet make up the other half of the dance binary. While “formal” dance is privileged with forming the “bedrock of all contemporary dance,” with the highest levels of training necessary to perform these styles, “street” styles are thought to be “natural,” with very little formal training or technique necessary. Rosa-Salas also examines the ways in which “street” styles are appropriated by mainstream pop-culture and how race and class factor into the construction of hierarchies in dance. Her intersectional critique framed the lecture demonstration and discussion. “These false categories bare a hierarchy that trouble me,” Rosa-Salas said in her opening comments. “Because they relegate certain dance forms into this ‘otherizing’ realm.” NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL strives to make these categories visible and ultimately attempts to upend them.

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Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies: The Conference

Amber Hollibaugh’s project Queer Survival Economies took the form of a conference “Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies” on January 23rd and 24th. Queer Survival Economies (QSE) is a project that aims to organize poor and working class people around economic justice and immigration issues, particularly problems that impact LGBTQ+ people. The project works with various organizational partners and includes conferences, training curriculum, network building, and the development of a story bank of LGBTQ+ poor and low-income people’s experiences. Through research, training, and education, QSE wants to expand local and national economic and immigration policies to include LGBTQ+ people.

I approached the conference not only as a BCRW research assistant, but as a queer Indian woman, unaware of what to expect. My past experience with the queer community has been frustratingly whitewashed and (cis) male, full of successful coming out stories that failed to transcend intersectional boundaries of race, culture, age, gender, polysexuality, religion, class, (dis)ability, and colonialism. I was hesitant to enter the conference room, unsure of who would occupy it, but found myself happily surprised at the amount of diversity in the room. As a young Desi queer, representations of myself in the media have been literally nonexistent, but to my delight, I spotted Alok from Darkmatter, the trans Desi slam poetry duo.

Gender, Sexuality, HIV and Reproductive Justice panel with Reina Gossett, Cara Page, and Terry Boggis. Photo by @MargotDWeiss via Twitter.

Gender, Sexuality, HIV and Reproductive Justice panel with Reina Gossett, Cara Page, and Terry Boggis. Photo by @MargotDWeiss via Twitter.

The focus of this conference was on how certain bodies, such as queer bodies and Black and brown bodies, are seen as dangerous and disruptive to the social order. Panelists at “Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies” discussed the impacts of the medical-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and capitalism on the LGBTQ+ community. Higher rates of arrest and strip searches exist among LGBTQ+ people of color and queer disabled people, particularly those that are homeless. Because there are disproportionate amounts of homeless queer youth and adults, issues surrounding homelessness are queer issues.

The following are the two panels I attended at the conference.

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