On Allies

I’m going to level with you: the notion of “allies” doesn’t sit well with me, and I’ve always had trouble really clearly framing why. The closest I can get is this: As a Jew, I’ve had a non-negligible number of occasions where, unbidden, a Gentile has come forward to tell me about some time they went to bat for Jews (usually over an office Xmas tree or some such similar piddling bullshit).  And the message—occasionally explicitly stated, always at least implied—was “Look what I did for you and your people!”

Each of those people, no doubt, considered themselves to be my “ally.” And each of those people proved to be a total asshole—not because of the going-to-bat occasion, which were generally null to me (I mean, they were talking about some other thing they did at some other time before they knew me—often occasions where there was no Jew present to ally with; the gesture meant something between little and nothing).  They were just garden variety assholes, and happened to also be aggrandizing crusaders, or whatever.

And I don’t want to be that person, or to be party to that headspace and culture. If someone is harshing blacks or women or muslims or whoever (purposefully, or by clumsy ignorance), I want to gently intercede and work to open up and draw light into that situation—but I don’t want to do that as an “ally.”  I just want to do it as a human who is aesthetically offended by ugliness, and as a Jew engaging in right action (which is tikkun olam, which is Our Business in the World), and as a father who never wants his children to catch him being weak and letting such ugly, broken bullshit slide.

I’m not sure if that’s that Gay is getting at here (or what Coates was getting at in 2015). But reading this helped my finally find a way to encode these things I’ve long felt. Maybe it will help you, too.