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  • Thandiwe Ntshinga

Questioning activism and allyship

Activism has always been a part of my life due to my upbringing with ANC comrade parents. As I grew older and came into anthropology, I was taught that activism is in anthropological research. However, I have been questioning what activism and allyship means to me for the past year or so.

Black Lives Matter

I care about the lives of Black people, particularly Black womxn and girls. Caring about Black womxn is not a popular stance but that’s where I stand. My activist activities have always been centred around Black people. I march for womxn as long as it's for Black womxn. Queer rights? Definitely, if we are highlighting the experiences of Black queer people. African suffering will have me protesting in Washington D.C. from the Rwandan Embassy to the White House in solidarity against continued conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Doing more harm than good in allyship

One thing that has been troubling me personally is the notion of allyship. It’s no secret in anti-racism ally ship that well-intentioned white allies often cause more harm than good. In all honesty, I don’t trust anyone who refers to themselves as an ally to any cause. I had a jarring realisation while talking to a family member that, in body politics, I have a lot of learning to do.

My family member is a bigger womxn and has been for the majority of her life. I have watched her being body-shamed by the elders in our family for years. Thinking I was doing something special, I tried to convince her that there was nothing wrong with her plus-size body. “You should wear crop tops, girl,” I said to her one hot day as she lifted her shirt to cool herself down. “No”, she replied uncomfortably. “Why not? It’ll look good.” I pushed, to which she lightly snapped, “Not everyone’s [as accepting as] you.” In that moment, I realised that I was a piece of shit. I may be pro-fat but who the hell did I think I was, to push someone beyond their comfort level when I do not live their life? I can say “Don’t worry about other people” but the truth is that it was not my place. I've never referred to myself as an ally to any group. After this, I never will.

I also have a heterosexual friend that drives me up the wall with her queer ally ship who considers herself ‘politically queer’. Sure, that may work in activist spaces but truthfully, interpersonally, how she speaks to me about queer life is as straight as it comes. Like, I don’t need a straight person lecturing me about queer politics. The worst is that she doesn’t realise how problematic this is. It’s getting to the point where it’s safest talking to my queer friends about the lived experience of daily queerness which is full of nuance in a way that ‘the straights’ are not privy to.

Human rights

I am emotionally depleted in my activism. I can’t organise protests. I’m not online posting about the world falling apart. I’m tired but above everything human rights remain important. In some ways, I have become an apathetic citizen as my basic human rights such as access to water have been trampled on but at the same time, it’s difficult to ignore war and genocide. I went to my first protest in a few years because I care about human rights. I care about human rights violations. I’m imperfect however, I still care.


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