A woman recently mentioned to me how she is so awe-inspired by me at being able to “do it all” and having great time management. I told her I have people who help me. She said I should take the compliment she’s giving me and should just say “thanks”. You guys know how badly I get turned off by such commentary so I just said thanks and went my way.
But in all her haughtiness about how she knew me better than I know myself and how I’m shortchanging myself and how I’m too humble for who I am and how I should say thanks to compliments I don’t like, she ignored that her language wasn’t the language of an ally. The conversation smothered me. She was trying to be nice in teaching me etiquette but she was being condescending. Many people have told me how to live my life and say my words and make my choices so I’m not particularly upset with her but she isn’t an ally, I know that.
You know an ally would’ve muted herself. She knew I have a child with special needs. When she heard me saying that I don’t do it all by myself what she could have chosen to say is “Of course! And why should you? You’re not Superman or one of the Power Puff Girls. You’re not a fictional character. You’re after all a human being and you need help”. That sadly, even though I pointed to her, didn’t come and actually when I requested for some humanity, she chided me by saying that may be I should learn to take a compliment.
Dear fellow woman! Compliment, it was not!
It was a casual observation by a casual onlooker. It was a moment in time for you where you told me “how you want my productivity” completely disregarding that not being able to be as productive as I am and still having a roof over your head and food on your table is the type of privilege that you have to drop before you could understand even an iota of how I make it happen.
And this is what brings me to the topic of this blog post! Ally language!
Recently when George Floyd was murdered there was a lot of language that came out of privileged people’s mouths. A lot of this language I know is with good intention. It’s to show solidarity. It’s to have a buddy moment. It’s to be an ally.
Sadly, a lot of it was anything but. You know why! Because we didn’t listen to black people. We didn’t listen to what they wanted to say. We assumed what they were all about because of our preconceived ideas about our own wokeness.
“I have a black friend”.
“I work with an exclusively black clientele”.
“I have supported the Democrats always”.
“I dated a black person”.
It became as shallow as these statements became profound. It became transparent. It became hard to live and experience so we were told to mute ourselves and listen.
So today, as a special needs parent/career woman/community member/writer/lover of nature I request you to listen. Listen to what I call ally language and ally behavior.
I know you’re an ally if you don’t constantly praise me for superhuman things that I have to do in order to achieve advocacy of special needs. You’re an ally if you say “I don’t get it and I can’t completely get it ever but I’m willing to read up on it”. You’re an ally when you don’t ask me all the questions and exhaust me in your seemingly fervent quest of knowledge regarding special needs. It’s not my job to educate you.
You’re an ally if you don’t come on strong. You are a much better friend if you let me keep some areas of my life open to social media but not topics of huge discussion between you and me unless I show you an opening for a discussion of that nature. Sharing something on social media does not prepare me to have one to one conversations about my life with you. Some day I’ll be there hopefully. I’m not there now. Many special needs parents aren’t ever there.
You’re an ally if you work to build a relationship with me as a mother of children if you don’t have kids with special needs yourself. You don’t have to become my friend in the special needs aspect of my life. Trust me! I have my tribe that gets that. You won’t get it if you aren’t going through it and it’s okay. Make our relationship about something else.
You’re an ally if you don’t try too hard. I can tell when you’re trying too hard. It’s an immediate turn off for me.
And lastly, as a woman and as a parent with an unconventional journey, I absolutely hate being told what to say or how to accept your “compliment.” I didn’t think it was a compliment and I said thanks in that moment to get rid of you but I have been eternally warned of how you can be condescending and patronizing in how you want me to be. That’s not okay. I have twenty things against me in my life so I don’t need you to tell me how my etiquette is off too.