Hello every­one. I want­ed to give a talk on how to be an ally but I can’t real­ly give that talk, so this is not a talk on how to be an ally. It’s a talk about try­ing to become one.

For those of you unaware, an ally is some­one who wants to sup­port the strug­gles of a mar­gin­al­ized group that they are not a part of. [So?] feels com­pelled for what­ev­er set of rea­sons, but they’re not in that group, and that puts one in a par­tic­u­lar posi­tion when try­ing to par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics that group. 

Photo of a rock band performing.

My back­ground is this. Well, I was­n’t in this band, but this band had a pro­found effect on me and real­ly shaped a lot of my young, bud­ding pol­i­tics when I was a pre-teen. And those pol­i­tics kind of stuck with me for the rest of my life. So a lot of that life [inaudi­ble] try to fig­ure out how to unpack this and make it into an ethics that I can live every day.

White text on black background reading "Shut The F**k Up"

Here are a few things that I’ve learned about being an ally over the years. This is the first and the most impor­tant. This par­tic­u­lar point was put to me very well (not direct­ed at me, I have to say) by a woman that I work with now in the Design Media Arts MFA pro­gram who likes to talk about this as one of her opin­ions about work­ing with white peo­ple; she’s a woman of col­or. What I think is real­ly impor­tant about this com­ment is that she finds it very frus­trat­ing that it often alien­ates peo­ple, push­es peo­ple away. People get very angry. But what’s impor­tant here is that it’s not a metaphor in the sense that it does­n’t mean go away” when you say that. It means just stop talk­ing. Don’t give up, don’t decide that you don’t care, don’t think that you’re not wel­come, just stop mov­ing your lips. Stop mak­ing sounds, and start lis­ten­ing. Because that’s real­ly the best way to contribute. 

A great YouTube video on how to be an ally that I rec­om­mend you search YouTube for these. There’s an anal­o­gy made between try­ing to help your friend build a house when you’ve nev­er built a house before, and you just show up and start ham­mer­ing things because you don’t real­ly know what you’re doing. So don’t do that. Just listen.

I and mine do not con­vince by argu­ments, sim­i­les, rhymes; We con­vince by out presence.
Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

This par­tic­u­lar point always makes me think of this Whitman quote about con­vinc­ing by pres­ence, and real­ly the impor­tance of being present as an ally, but not par­tic­u­lar­ly try­ing to con­tribute your own voice. Being present and lis­ten­ing puts you in a par­tic­u­lar posi­tion where [you can?] think of the priv­i­lege that you have being put in the hands of the mar­gin­al­ized group that you want to sup­port just by being there, just by listening.

Another impor­tant point, of course, is don’t get defen­sive, no mat­ter what, ever. It’s real­ly not about you at all. If you go on the Internet (and Tumblr in par­tic­u­lar is kind of bad about this), you’ll fre­quent­ly encounter a lot of peo­ple who are skep­ti­cal of your com­mit­ments. But before you speak up, before you react, before you do any­thing, just ask if the skep­ti­cism that you’re fac­ing is deserved. Not even deserved of you in par­tic­u­lar, but per­haps in gen­er­al. If this is a rea­son­able posi­tion for some­one to take. And then ask if what you’re about to do is going to sup­port the cause that you believe in or if it real­ly has noth­ing to do with it, because in this con­text that is real­ly all that matters.

White text on black background reading "Read The F*****g Manual"

Another impor­tant point here is this, which is to read the man­u­al. I think it could be inter­est­ing in this con­text to take this term away from the bro­gram­mers who like to throw it around on forums, and try to think about how this par­tic­u­lar phrase may be thrown back when deal­ing with issues of dif­fer­ence. In this con­text, it’s about doing the work, it’s about find­ing text, blogs, videos, lec­tures, the vines, the Tumblrs, read­ing them and think­ing about how they apply to your life. Reading blog posts and going for a walk. Thinking about sit­u­a­tions you find your­self in, things that you take for grant­ed, and think­ing about ways that the thoughts of oth­ers can desta­bi­lize those.

Of course the most impor­tant is to think about priv­i­lege, and real­ly think about it close­ly. Consider it at arms’ length but con­sid­er ways that you have priv­i­lege, how you use it, what you do with it, and what it means if you are a per­son with priv­i­lege to try to be an ally. How that priv­i­lege is inter­fer­ing with your sup­port­ing the cause you believe in.

Then of course, some­thing so obvi­ous, but it seems so often missed is sim­ply that pro­nouns are pow­er­ful. When you’re giv­ing lec­tures and you’re try­ing to teach a pro­gram­ming con­cept and you’re talk­ing about a pro­gram­mer who devel­ops some­thing, just use [she?]. It’s quite sim­ple and it has an amaz­ing effect. I’ve done it for years with my stu­dents, and many of them come up to me and talk to me about it lat­er because it’s such a small thing but it shifts the way the con­ver­sa­tion hap­pens and brings oth­er per­son­al­i­ties into the forum. Language real­ly does mat­ter. There was a back­lash of course with polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, but we’re kind of past that now, we’re far past that now. [large­ly inaudi­ble sentence] 

Moving from here we’ve got all of these anti’s. Anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-capitalism, [inaudi­ble] an exhaus­tive list of some of the poten­tial posi­tions that’ve come up just today in this pan­el. Something that’s impor­tant to me per­son­al­ly is that these par­tic­u­lar con­cerns don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly affect the larg­er struc­ture that we find our­selves in. We have to con­sid­er and not be con­tent with just cri­tiquing the sta­tus quo. There’s this term from the polit­i­cal philoso­pher Mark Fisher called cap­i­tal­ist real­ism. What cap­i­tal­ist real­ism is is the notion that our world has been struc­tured by cap­i­tal­ism that we are no longer able to imag­ine our­selves out of it. This crops up a lot in encour­ag­ing [women?] and peo­ple of col­or to learn to pro­gram so that they can very quick­ly [go to?] Silicon Valley and [inaudi­ble] make mon­ey and contribute.

Those pol­i­tics are not my pol­i­tics, and I think it’s impor­tant for peo­ple to con­sid­er where they stand on this issue and con­sid­er how we can pos­si­bly think these terms [anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-capitalism] into these terms [post-racism, post-sexism, post-capitalism], and try to con­sid­er what hap­pens when we get through racism, we get through sex­ism, when we over­come cap­i­tal­ism. What kind of world will we find our­selves in, and try to put a lot of think­ing into imag­in­ing what that world would be like.

One tem­po­rary school of thought that’s try­ing to do that is called accel­er­a­tionism, close­ly relat­ed to Luxury Communism, or some­times more enter­tain­ing­ly called Fully Automated Luxury Communism. The idea here is that we’re quick­ly fac­ing a future which will be post-scarcity. We will have automa­tion of so many tasks that we need to start con­sid­er­ing whether the jobs that are [invent­ed?] away through automa­tion, whether those peo­ple are just going to starve, what we’re going to do with the sur­plus pop­u­la­tion that has nowhere to work [because they?] work to live.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty that some­thing like accel­er­a­tionism offers is we can take [hold?] of the cap­i­tal­ist machin­ery and try to accel­er­ate tech­no­log­i­cal progress and put it to the uses of humans and envi­ron­ments and peo­ple. So we can actu­al­ly make a world designed for liv­ing in. So I think that we’re in a par­tic­u­lar moment here where bring­ing in a mar­gin­al­ized group into this project, pro­gram­ming and tech­nol­o­gy in par­tic­u­lar is going to be, as Phoenix men­tioned, vital­ly impor­tant to this future, to decid­ing what kind of world we’re going to [be in?]. 

I sug­gest look­ing into accel­er­a­tionism. One of the inter­est­ing points there is the thought that cap­i­tal­ism goes through phas­es where you have inno­va­tion, but then inno­va­tion gets capped because there’s a long peri­od of try­ing to mon­e­tize [instead of?] invent­ing, and that inno­va­tion is no longer [quite?] to the human pur­pose. So we’re at an oppor­tu­ni­ty [inaudi­ble] where we can do that.

One final thought from all of this is to always try harder. 

Thank you.

Further Reference

Overview page at the Studio for Creative Inquiry’s web site.