Allyship Sunday: Intent Isn't Magic
There are terms that are said a lot in social justice circles, and are clear to everyone in those circles, but may be opaque to others. One of those is a phrase I've already used a couple of times here: Intent isn't magic. Let's get into it.
Let us start with an anecdote. A black woman posted on twitter about a racist incident. The incident was enraging, and so the black woman expressed rage. Several white women responded with possible explanations for the incident, talking about how the white woman who incited the incident by calling the cops on two young men of color because
"they wouldn't answer questions" might not have meant the results of her actions.
Now, this story illustrates the point not once, but twice. Here's the obvious one: The intentions of the original white woman don't matter. When you call the cops on people of color who aren't committing a crime, you are putting their very lives in danger. The very best case scenario is humiliating them and ruining their day. The worst? Well, we've seen how that ends countless times.
But I'm not here to talk about that white woman. Racists gonna racist. I'm not here to talk to them. I'm here to talk about well meaning allies whose good intentions end up costing the black woman they're addressing emotional labor. Now, not only does she have justified anger to deal with, there's also friendly allies to explain shit to.
This is a woman whose intellect cannot be doubted. And these allies, likely followers of the woman, possibly fans of her work, know this. And yet, in their well intentioned attempts to talk this through, to find explanations - specifically explanations that exonerate folks who looks like them, they are creating harm.
When we say "intent isn't magic," what we mean is that when you cause hurt, the fact that your intentions were good doesn't absolve you of that hurt. "I was only trying to help," is something allies say a bunch. And it's usually true! We're a well meaning bunch!
But allyship is a process and ally is a verb and we all make mistakes. I've made mistakes, and I can pretty much guarantee I'll make more. And when called out on them, what do we do? That's right. We own our shit, apologize, and do better
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