Image Credit: Micheile Henderson
I’d like to devote this editor’s note to talking a little about allyship – something which is incredibly important both in life and in the media. Just like the myriad of important and influential ways we can all be allies in our day-to-day life, being an ally in writing forces us to confront our own internal biases and lack of understanding.
At Nouse, this Pride Month we’ve made a particular effort to draw attention to LGBTQ+ issues across all sections, from the recent attacks on trans rights in the UK to the importance of It’s a Sin in highlighting the forgotten trauma of a whole generation of queer men.
Now that Pride Month is over, it is important to remember that allyship is for all year round; it’s something you cannot and should not drop in and out of, and something that should force you to consistently evaluate your own privileges. More crucially, you are not the one who gets to decide if you are doing it right - it’s down to those whose voices you are attempting to amplify.
Approaching an issue which you yourself have never experienced involves treading lightly and carefully. The English department has always encouraged us to write about whatever we found most compelling, something which I have really enjoyed. But there are instances in which stepping outside of one’s own experience can be counterproductive.
To state the obvious, it’s best practice to have individuals write about their own experiences – that a white person will never, ever be able to do justice to racial issues they have never experienced, to state just one example. But with academia (and journalism, while we’re at it) being overwhelmingly white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, and middle-class, if we were to strictly follow this rule I suspect that discourse itself would be even less diverse than the people creating it.
The system needs fixing so that minorities have a platform to talk about these issues in the first place, and that’s not something that’s solved through writing – in an industry as slow to change as the media, it will need a revolution. It will require those in power to be willing to give up their privileges.
In the meantime, it is inevitable that more privileged individuals will continue to commentate on issues that do not directly affect them, myself included. As Matt has previously discussed in-depth, words are a powerful tool. When done well, journalism can raise awareness and help to change public opinion – when done wrong, it can reinforce harmful stereotypes and drown out the voices and opinions of those we are trying to help.
I think it’s important when coming from a place of privilege, to ask yourself what your motives actually are for writing on a topic, and what you can contribute to the discussion. More than this, it is understanding that even if your motives are good, that you can and will get it wrong; in these moments, it is important to be humble, embrace your mistakes, and learn from them.
The question of how to be a perfect ally is a pointless one, it’s not achievable. The best advice we can get is from the individuals and communities whom we are attempting to advocate for. So, I’d like to use this editor’s note to encourage you to listen before you write, to continually question and challenge yourself, and to carry this mindset across your writing, whether you are directly addressing an issue or not. Is your language inclusive? Are you exclusively reviewing books by white authors?Is your TV watch list overwhelmed with heterosexual narratives?
There is no perfect ally, and therefore we can all do better.