The best ally you can be

Being an ally is active, not passive. It sounds absurd now, but I’ve only just internalised that you can’t rely on simply knowing that you’re a person with good intentions who isn’t racist, sexist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, xenophobic, ableist. Because allyship isn’t about intention. Because declaring “I am an ally” is insufficient.

Listening is vital too, but it’s not enough either, and to be completely honest it hasn’t felt enough to stand by and simply watch as it all unfolds. We, that is myself and other white cis women, need to act without inserting ourselves, to reach out to other white, straight, cis, privileged people, hopefully, to solidify our choice to be and act as allies. To encourage others. Because it’s a choice, and not an identity. It seems that this is what we have misunderstood all along. No one is born an ally.

Being an ally is active, not passive.

In truth, and perhaps it’s selfish too, I also cannot really stand the thought of running a blog where I post about women’s issues and feminism, where I eco-criticise Black Friday and discuss the violence we commit against our environment, if only to consciously and casually decide to skip over racism, or how to be an ally to any oppressed community that isn’t my own, just because I’m afraid to broach the topic, or to mess up my part. So I’ve decided to post and share what I’ve discussed with others, and compiled over these past few weeks. I might fuck up, and I’ll take the risk that comes with change.

Being a better ally

There are perhaps many different versions and definitions of what it means to be an ally. It might seem over-whelming, but the more you research, read, learn, and listen, the better equipped you become, and the more you’ll grow to understand about how to act, and when to act. There will always be more, there will always be ways to better yourself, and diverging advice. Let’s start with advice and pointers that are echoed across the board, and discussed in The Guide to Allyship by Amélie Lamont, and these videos by Ahsante Bean (Ahsante The Artist) and Franchesca Ramsey (Chescaleigh).

  1. Allyship isn’t passive, and it’s not enough to proclaim yourself an ally. Ally is a verb too, so do the work.
  2. You educate yourself, consultation is a job and it’s not free. Education is not static, so keep reading and learning, there’s always more.
  3. Stand up even when you feel scared, especially because you are less likely to be attacked or hurt, and more likely to convince people who share your privilege to become allies.
  4. There is no singular experience of what it means and what it is to be black, queer, trans, black gay/bi/lesbian/asexual, disabled gay, the list goes on. You cannot read one author or watch one film, and understand ‘the‘ black experience or ‘the‘ queer experience, because there is no unified experience, even if there are similarities, recurring themes, or shared struggles that crop up.
  5. Do your part and transfer the benefits of your privilege onto others. Hire, pay, include, insert, promote, support, help and consult where appropriate.
  6. Understand and use your privilege appropriately. Racist people are more likely to listen to other white people, family members are more likely to listen to other family members. Men are more likely to listen to other men. Use your voice where others cannot. Do not insert your voice where others can speak for themselves.
  7. Understand that even if you are an ally and want to contribute positively, the conversation is not about you. As Chescaleigh puts it, you’re the Michelle, not the Beyoncé (sorry not sorry Michelle!).
  8. Don’t take credit. It’s not about intent, it’s about impact.
  9. Own your mistakes, apologise, and de-centre yourself.
  10. Even if the education system is heavily flawed and focuses on straight, cis, white, male experiences, understand that your education, especially if you are privileged, is up to you and no one else. You can google, you can decide what to read in your spare time, you can decide to engage in conversations. You have agency beyond the institution and beyond the curriculum.
  11. Understand what privilege means. Privilege does not mean being rich or not having struggled. You can occupy several positions of privilege even if parts of you or your experience are disadvantaged. This will also help you understand your rights, which is crucial in order to compare them to rights others do not have.

Towards debunking misconceptions I’ve heard as an academic and a writer

Ally resources

Donate

Marques Brownlee; on skin colour, and following authentically

Creators & accounts to follow

Ahsante The Artist, kickass art and socio-cultural critique
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whatever your political beliefs
Ashley | Best Dressed, best thrifting and open talks about sexuality
Black Pride NL, on a mission for Black Pride in the Netherlands
Black Queer & Trans Resistance, a Black LGBTI+ political action group.
Button Poetry, inclusive & multilingual performance poetry
Check Your Privilege, unlearn and relearn and dismantle the system
Chescaleigh, socio-cultural critique and comedy
Contrapoints, controversial chats about feminism, inceldom, trans experiences
Feminist, self-explanatory I hope
Free The Nipple, seriously, free it
Ginny Di, astounding female cosplayer, gamer & artist, reviving pin-up
Grace Beverley, sustainable business, fitness, and fashion queen
Hannah | Studyous, my amazing friend & literary queen with an instagram that is to die for, focusing on diverse book reviews
Jazzmyne, aesthetic, style, comedy, socio-cultural critique
Jouelzy, in depth commentary on intersectional feminism & diaspora
Kathy | Kathy Drops A Line, my fabulous friend & pro journal keeper, sharing a selection of personal experiences on her beautiful, minimalist blog
KO Zwarte Piet, against the Black Peter ‘tradition’ in the Netherlands
Life With Lanea, simply hilarious?
Machaizelli Kahey | MacDoesIt, satirical commentary and fun reviews
Marques Brownlee, detailed and honest tech reviews
Michelle Phan, the ultimate OG beauty queen, guru, and makeup artist
Nederland Wordt Beter, towards a future without racism and discrimination in the Netherlands
Phenomenal, female-owned business with a beautiful message & aesthetic
Rain Dove, a rad AF no-labels, fashionista activist & actress
SAARA, great music and weird shit that is wholesome as funk
Sad Girls Club, mental health & feminism
Saima Chowdhury | SaimaSmilesLike, great cultural critique, photography, and podcasts
Salty World, providing a voice to all babes who are justifiably salty
SolangeTeParle, it’s just weird and different and I love it?
StyleLikeU, mother-daughter-run storytelling platform & project
TALA, sustainable, ethical & diverse business headed by Grace Beverley
The Black Archives Amsterdam, cultural centre and archive striving to make hidden history visible
Therapissed, thought- and action-provoking posts on trauma and allyship
The Spark Company, sassy feminist critiques and great apparel
Unapologetic Street Series, storytelling in public spaces
We All Grow Latina, highlighting latina & latinx voices

Supporting in Amsterdam

My 2020 reading list: honest and hopefully improved

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  • A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coats
  • City of Ash and Red by Hye-Young Pyun
  • Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
  • Fun Home by Allison Bechdel
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Grand Union: Stories’ by Zadie Smith
  • Hagseed by Margaret Atwood
  • Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • In Other Worlds: SF and The Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
  • Kallocain by Karin Boye
  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  • La Peste by Albert Camus
  • Las Constelaciones Oscuras by Pola Oloixarac
  • Le Deuxième Sexe by Simone de Beauvoir
  • MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
  • Rayuela by Julio Cortázar
  • Reflections on the Color of My Skin by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Iljeoma Oluo
  • Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
  • Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • The Castle, Franz Kafka
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
  • The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Appendix

You might be doubting yourself, or feeling guilty. I’m the same; however, putting too much focus on these thoughts risks re-centring the conversation back onto yourself rather than the people you are supposed to be an ally to. If you’re considering writing or talking about your own experience of someone else’s reality, in depth and beyond a superficial disclaimer or footnote, take into account how it might re-centre the focus onto yourself. Ask yourself if that is your goal. It shouldn’t be.

Of course, I don’t deny the existence of a plethora of dichotomies (potential) allies might want to consider, discuss, and conduct research on:

  • Listening vs being an inactive bystander
  • Speaking up vs speaking on behalf of
  • Being vocal and supportive vs inserting yourself
  • Supporting vs exhibiting white saviour complex
  • The social media era: to share, comment, like, and participate, or not
  • Promoting vs seeming insincere and part of a trend
  • Online activism vs IRL activism vs both
  • Asking for advice only vs also educating yourself
  • Educating yourself vs trusting yourself enough to conduct quality research
  • Recognising and accepting the consequences of innate bias vs undermining your capacity to consciously counter and question bias when conducting research
  • Reading only vs also writing on being an ally
  • Being an inclusive & diverse brand or business vs profiting off of someone else’s experiences of oppression & marginalisation
  • Not your conversation vs the vantage point you have in a conversation with other straight, cis, white people

But we do have to remind ourselves, especially in this self-obsessed social media selfie era: this is not about me or you. It’s not about our feelings. It’s not about our experience. It’s not about victimising ourselves. Being nervous or unsure is natural, but it shouldn’t take over your responsibilities as an ally. Use your platform to actively, openly, and selflessly support, uplift, listen to, and promote other voices.

So from hereon out, we drop ourselves from the equation, we move past our (un)related issues, past guilt and self doubt, and past ‘self’. We, for lack of a better metaphor, become humanitarian customer service. Do your own research, stand by to help politely but not overbearingly. Always apologise, always de-centre, always be attentive to feedback, and never be defensive. Your mindset from now on is:

How can I help you?

Amsterdam’s consumerist and eco-unfriendly fast fashion

Whilst Amsterdam can boast an environmentally-friendly profile in many ways, with its trams and metro lines powered by green electricity, and its minimal waste vegan shops like the Little Plant Pantry in West, the city seems to turn a blind eye to the ongoing promotion of fast fashion. In fact, it seems to incite it.

Kalverstraat, Amsterdam // Flo // Basic Snitch

It’s really no secret that Amsterdam is famous for a few things; the ins-and-outs of so-called shady and über-cool coffeeshop joints is the first cultural practice I’m harassed about when I speak of living here. Followed by the Anne Frank House, cheese, canals, pancakes, stroopwafels, oh yeah and the Nine Little (Shopping) Streets.

Declared the 17th most expensive street in the world a decade ago, the Kalverstraat maintains its motto of “Shop. Never stop.” Never.

I’m now fairly well-acquainted with shopping in Amsterdam as I am lucky enough to live nearby and work as a copywriter for a space listings company. Almost all of my writing has been for retail locations on the 9 Straatjes. This freelance job includes researching pretty much every shopping street in Amsterdam, including the Kalverstraat, which is the most expensive street in the Netherlands in terms of rent prices. Declared the 17th most expensive street in the world a decade ago, the Kalverstraat maintains its motto of “Shop. Never stop.” Never.

The thing is, sometimes I like shopping. It has been ritualised as an activity performed with friends, and it symbolises community and gathering. Of course, the practice is also deeply connected to holidays and celebration. When we are so exhausted, when we are so inconceivably underpaid and virtually impossible 40-hour work weeks are a bitter leftover from wartimes where women stayed at home, most of us glorify days off and count the minutes till our shifts end.

As a practice that also bonds parents with children, it comes in the form of your first pair of heels, or your first suit. It brings friends closer together by way of bracelets, lends itself to couples in search of flowers and jewellery, it proposes sales to its clients, and discounts to its employees.

So when I take issue with shopping, it isn’t the social aspect I think of first – though it holds a reprehensible, elitist, and segregational power which is stronger than its capacity to unite – but the capitalist, consumerist, and frankly, unethical and environmentally-harmful idea that fast fashion is the only way to go. The idea that we constantly need more, that the only solution is to never stop buying. And as many of us truly carpe diem for the Outfit Of The Day at the expense of our future, even the wokest of instagrammer vegans are constantly #gifted fast fashion.

Zahra Fatina writes for VOLTA magazine that the fashion industry is amongst the largest culprits of global capitalism and exploitation. She points out that even thrifting and second-hand shopping is only a thorny indirect alternative, with little means of verifying that the clothing has been ethically sourced or produced.

Kalverstraat welcomes more than 40,000 visitors every Saturday. Its sign sends a terrible message: the only trees we care about are the ones that are no longer standing.

More than just an ethical and financial burden, fast fashion is also bad for the environment: clothing is wasted and pollutes landfills, chemical dyes can seep into the ground, and as of right now, the textile industry is the second greatest polluter of local freshwater in the world.

As more and more critiques of fast fashion surface, people are starting to pay attention to important voices. London-based artist Elizabeth Thilling began her anti-fast fashion campaign Project Stopshop in 2017 during her time at university; what she calls a “visual exploration of fast fashion consumption” highlights the absurdity of extreme consumerism. In a similar vein, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also advocates for a “shop-stop“, or, refusing to participate in the practice of shopping unless you absolutely need to.

And yet, despite all of our united individual efforts, despite thousands marching for action on climate change in The Hague, and Amsterdam standing tall and proud of its environmental efforts, the Kalverstraat welcomes more than 40,000 visitors every Saturday. Its sign sends a terrible message: the only trees we care about are the ones that are no longer standing.

How dare you incite us when we are in the midst of an environmental crisis.

We have long been told now that individual choices won’t make much of a difference. Perhaps thrifting or stopshop campaigns won’t be impactful, but the Kalverstraat sign that Amsterdam chooses to hang and light up is displayed to thousands everyday. That sign does have impact.

I’m not suggesting you shut down your shop, I’m not saying I will never buy a t-shirt again. But don’t have the nerve to incite a society that has already plummeted to the depths of consumerism to take it a step further, to continue, or to start its consumerist journey today. How dare you incite us when we are in the midst of an environmental crisis.