Franchesca Ramsey came to Rutgers and hit the nail right on the head on how to be an Ally
“Often our activism lacks intersection”
While the Rutgers campus is painted purple as a part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a bright aura of colors surrounded the College Avenue Student Center on Wednesday evening. A queen of several trades, (activist, comedian, writer, the list goes on) Franchesca Ramsey is a popular YouTube personality, who gained her mainstream path to fame from her viral "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls" video. She's written for Comedy Central's "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore", and is now the Executive Producer and star of MTV News' "Decoded."
Ramsey came to Rutgers during a time when students need to know that they have allies, those who will stand right beside them and speak for them when they are silenced. However, there is more than one way to be an ally, and Ramsey gave a powerful lecture on what it means to be one and where to start.
"Check your privilege"
This is an intense phrase, and can quickly be twisted, turned, and bent out of shape until it's something ugly. Someone tweets it out and suddenly there's a 14 reply-tweet thread with people playing their favorite game: "My Life Sucks More than Yours Does!" But that's not what it's about at all.
Having privilege means that you hold an advantage over a social group, simply because of how you identify yourself. Someone who identifies as straight has privilege over someone who identifies as gay. It doesn't mean that a straight person doesn't go through harassment or being judged, but if they do it isn't because they're straight.
Ramsey spoke up about this during both the beginning and end of her presentation: "I think we all have to acknowledge and 'check our privilege'. When you're talking to somebody, they're going to get on the defense when you tell them that. As easy as it is to tell someone [to check their privilege], they're gonna shut down."
It's easier to talk to somebody about it when you address your privilege first, and let them know that it's 1) not their fault, and 2) not a negative thing. Privilege can be used to silence the oppressed, or lift them up. If used in a positive way, everyone wins, and no ones life has to suck more than anyone else.
"Call out AND in"
It's easy to come at someone's neck when they're being politically incorrect or extremely ignorant, and it can be tempting when you let your emotion taking over being rational. Dragging someone or embarrassing them seems like an appropriate punishment for seemingly being a dick. While that is sometimes the case, sometimes people are just unaware. We each like to think that we've hit peak knowledge and can't fit one more piece of information into our Jimmy Neutron sized brains, but that's never the case. None of us were born with a perfect sense of self, but because we think we were, it's easy to say: "Well I know this so why don't you? You should know this!" I'm guilty of thinking like this all the time, and for damn sure am not Jimmy Neutron.
Ramsey emphasized the importance in doing both: "Make space. Sometimes we need to call people out, especially when brands or big celebrities screw up. But, maybe your roommate screwed up. You can't go leaping and ostracize them because they said something terrible. Take them out to coffee, or send them a text and be like: 'Can we talk about this thing that you said?' Everyone in this room has messed up, but how did you learn from it? Did someone put one of your tweets on a billboard? No. Someone pulled you aside and said: 'Hey, girl, can we talk? Because you fucked up.' And then you were like: 'Oh man, you're right.'"
Sometimes it's harder to have that conversation with someone you know, because it isn't fun to talk about. Sometimes it's awkward, uncomfortable, and just messy. But that's how we grow and learn, which is something that you can resist, or work with others and yourself to let happen.
"Speak up, not over"
Part of being an ally is knowing that everything isn't always about you. In fact, rarely will it ever be about you. Being an ally is no different from being a friend (a true, real friend). You support your friends when they call on you for help, or encourage them when they don't believe in themselves. Being an ally means being humble, and you have to know when to step back and let your friend do their thing. You're always there for moral or emotional support, so if they need you they can come to you. You can definitely be the opening act, but you are not the main show.
Ramsey used analogies throughout her lecture, but this one described this concept perfectly: "Allyship is like Destiny's Child, there's only one Beyoncé. They all wore the same outfits, but Beyoncé's was always a little cuter. But, when Michelle decided that she wanted to have a little Gospel career, guess who was there? Kelly and Beyoncé. They did their little steps, and let Michelle have the spotlight. When Kelly wrote a book about being a mom, Michelle and Beyoncé were there."
You also speak up for your friends when they aren't there to defend themselves, and an ally does the same thing. You should treat a situation as if your friend was there, and in your heart you feel that they're being treated unjust, so you go up to bat for them. And I get it if that's hard sometimes, because when everyone's laughing and having a good time, you don't want to deflate the "fun balloon" with your needle-like words, but it's what's right. You'd want someone to defend you when you aren't able to do it yourself, so be that same person for others.
What's important to know, though, is that the people that you fight for do not have to be your friends. They don't have to be siblings, cousins, or coworkers, although they most likely are. You should stand for those who you don't know the names or faces of, and do it because you want to. There are no trophies for allyship, so don't save a space on your shelf.
"Use your online presence"
Social media is a rapidly growing platform that dominates all other means of spreading information. It's a way for all social groups to connect. Once conversation starts up, there's a snowball effect. People share with those who have had similar experiences, and decide to band together to fight with iron fists. Ramsey mentioned how ordinary people started extraordinary movements and causes, all through the internet. For example, the women who created #BlackLivesMatter were by no means social media gurus. They saw injustice, and like most of us, were fed up. They started a movement that and got a conversation going. An ally participates in that conversation by drawing awareness to those affected by injustices, and showing that they are here to help.
Why being an ally is important
Almost all groups face some kind of oppression, and it's up to everyone, not just allies, to be inclusive and consider all of the social groups that this society has created. As Ramsey put it, "this is not the 'Oppression Olympics'." There is no gold medal or podium photo for "Best Worst Life." Being inclusive is a trait that an ally MUST have because all social groups over lap. You can't advocate for muslims against Islamphobia, yet sexism doesn't make you bat an eyelash, because there are muslim women who experience both. No matter how you slice it, there will always be both, and you can't take one out of the other and chose which to fight for.
No one asks to be born into this chaotic world, but we do all ask to be accepted into it. Some people may only need to ask once, and others ask all of their lives. Allies hold the power to cease the need for the question to be posed in the first place.