This was originally posted by 'xxxlibris' in 2008 on LiveJournal.com which was, at the time, a major online hub for UK bi community people. Since then, changes mean many people are deleting their blogs there so it's archived here with various links updated.
So I didn't want to write too much for this, not least because of prior discussion about [International Blog Against Racism Week] being an excuse for white folks to pat themselves on the back. Whilst there may certainly be an element of that, I also believe that IBARW serves a huge purpose in getting discussion going from all quarters about race, racism, and all associated factors (including this year's theme of intersectionality). My perspective and experience come from being white, middle class and British, so what I thought I could reasonably write about was privilege and being an ally. So: without further ado,
The Cake Theory of Being An Ally:
I have something in my head about the link between privilege and being an ally, and I think it goes something along the lines of – if you're going to be an ally of a specific oppressed group then that implies that you're not a member of that oppressed group, and that implies that you have some degree of privilege*. So – one of the first (key?) steps in working to be an ally is recognising and owning that privilege which will include:
– Understanding how it affects the way you experience the world (aka the amazing 'backpack' essay)
– Understanding that you will have to earn the benefit of the doubt and put your money where your mouth is as far as actions go
– And the big one here, understanding how your privilege allows or may lead you to suppress discussions of racism.
So, thinking/writing aloud here, I think one of the big big things about learning how to be a not-too-massive-fuckup of an ally** is learning when to shut the damn hell up and listen to what people have to say, rather than assuming that ones view carries greater weight or that ones experiences are relevant. But: this can be difficult – I don't think folks are necessarily socialised to learn how to sit quietly and listen and learn. And thus, the cake theory.
The first step is to have at all times a slice of delicious cake by one's side. Then, if you find yourself
in a beautiful house reading a discussion online and thinking "But the 'flesh-coloured plasters' don't match my skin as a white person either", or "But white people are stereotyped too!" or "But we're all just people/queer/women/members of the human race – can't we be colourblind and focus on what unites us?", instead of wading in, take a bite of delicious cake instead. Your hands will be occupied by the motion of pushing bakery products into your mouth or delicately wiping the buttercream icing off your cardigan meaning that you won't be able to type or speak but instead can sit and be quiet and learn. With cake!
No-one will or should ever give you a cookie for behaving like a half-way decent human being; however, with the careful and timely application of cake, you can learn how to become a better ally.
* Obviously, intersectionality means that it's not as simple as that – I've seen it described as a card game where you might have any number of privilege cards out of: white, male, heterosexual, middle/upper class, cis-gendered, able bodied etc etc.
** Bearing in mind that one aspect of being an ally is knowing that you will, inevitably, fuck up***
*** As someone who is slowly, stupidly learning this stuff, this obviously means that I fuck up with exciting regularity, so any comments/feedback gratefully received – I like the Cake Theory for shutting up and listening, but am not sure how it fits with challenging crappy behaviour when that arises.
References: Some useful resources to read whilst eating CAKE: