Listen up white cis-hetliberals…if you are ANY of these things at any intersection, I want to talk to you…
I am speaking in my intersection as a transwoman who suffers from things that share a great congruence with my BIPOC fellow humans.
I have been cogitating on this for several weeks now and I am ready to unreel it.
There is a thing called “Performative Allyship”. Google it to find its meaning and then come back to read further.
I have been working outside in our yard a great deal since June…using clippers, shovels, hoes, weed whackers…and a brand new battery powered cute lil chainsaw…and it is great exercise and it is also making our yard look just that bit more tamed…but not groomed, for we have always desired our yard to be reflective of Oregon’s naturally occuring foliage as much as we can.
One of the largest challenges as I do this work is dealing with blackberries…and THAT is where the nitty gets gritty.
First of all, they are bushy, thick, tangled, and VERY formidable to deal with.
Secondly, you will always ALWAYS pay with a little bit of blood, a great deal of discomfort and a ton of frustration. But there are ways that are more effective and less effective.
One could just spray them with poison…which makes them go away, along with poisoning everything…
Or one can do the work.
Do the work.
This is a line that comes up for ANY PERSON who wants to become an ally, whether in areas of race or areas of gender.
What “doing the work” in terms of blackberries looks like is this: take some clippers (lopper style work best) and start lopping off canes, about a foot or so from the ground. Stay there, lopping off canes…again and again and again…and then rake them all up and take them to the bonfire and burn them.
You pretty much have to start here because the vines and brambles are too thick, too strong, and block access to the real source of the problem: the roots. If you go for those first thing? There is simply too much pain and blood, too many cuts and obstacles, and you will end up doing nothing.
Then go back and admire how much better everything looks.
If you get that far, congratulations!! You have just engaged in the equivalent of “PERFORMATIVE ALLYSHIP”!
Things LOOK better…you FEEL better…and also, if you walk away thinking your work is finished, you have made NO CHANGE at all for the better and MUCH change for the worse…because that simply stimulates the blackberries to grow more vigorously, which they can because…
the roots are still intact and fully operational.
When you are “that ally” who comes around and cheers for awhile, and then declares the task finished when all the surface stuff is cleared, you are NOT AN ALLY!! You are hurting things, hurting people, and contributing to the problem.
AT THE SAME TIME: the second step of the work CANNOT commence until the first step is taken! It is NECESSARY…in order to set the stage for the real work to start.
So what happens next?
Well, you get a shovel and a hoe, and you start to get down around each and every stalk that is sticking up…and you dig it out…all around it, deep, careful, laborious, difficult…and you take your hands and crumble the dirt carefully back down…and you keep at this until the ENTIRE ROOT is dug up and exposed.
These roots are dark, ugly, tough, nearly indestructible, and if you tossed it back on the ground it would TAKE ROOT AGAIN!!! You must throw them into your wheelbarrow.
This stage is HARD. It makes you sweat. It takes a long time…because there are SO MANY ROOTS BUT ALL OF THE SAME THING!!
And in any patch, there are pretty much just a few BIG MAMA QUEEN ROOTS OF THE WHOLE PATCH…and some of these take an hour or longer to get up.You have to make sure you get it all, too, or it just grows again.
So THIS part in the analogy is doing the HARD work…when a person you pose yourself as ally to checks you and calls you in or calls you out and you believe them, receive what they say and are correctable, you have successfully gotten a root out. Sometimes there are thorns still that prick you and hurt…and yet you keep digging…
Eventually, the reward is a patch that is LARGELY free of blackberry vines…there are always remnants that need to be worked on though.
And the final step is you light your bonfire and burn them…get the canes first, and stoke the fire hot and then throw in the roots…because they are ALMOST indestructible and are so difficult to burn!! But they WILL BURN!!!
I wish I had each of you out to our patch to teach you this while you worked.
This is why I do things the way I do things.
Many allies rebuke performative allyship and call out those who are performing it…but I do not. I keep it silent and I approve, in the same way I approve the children on the playground who perform for me and want to be seen and recognized and affirmed…I simply encourage, watch the stalks fly, give a nudge here or there about gathering them up for the fire…and let them get the joy and catch fire as they see their blackberry patch LOOKING better…
And then comes “the work”…that moment when I pick something out and point at the root and admonish that it needs dug…
THAT IS WHEN THE WORK STARTS and PERFORMANCE STOPS!!
And then, the vigil in the night while the roots are burned, the ashes stirred and sifted and fire lit again so the remnants can burn…
It is humbling, hard, and holy work.
There is another way you can deal with blackberry patches: you can mow them. And THESE patches always look so neat, and you can never ever walk on them barefoot or lay down and rest on them cus you will get poked and pricked and cut.
And that, friends, is the white person, the cis-het person that can miss me. THAT person will always have the memes up, will always link to the articles, will have mastered the art of words (mowers) to run over their privileged roots but will NEVER DEAL WITH THEM REALLY…
To be authentic, I generally expect this option from the majority of people who come around…because it is the most frequent response…lopping stalks and avoiding roots…and making the roots being there still MY fault because I was the one who pointed it out, who precipitated the exposure…
But the ones who AREN’T that way…the ones who come back with a backhoe and a crazed intense determination in their eyes to DEAL WITH IT ALL!!! LOL, thinking of you, Litter Mate!! Who for the sake of getting the mile done will go 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 20 miles!!
They make it so worth it.
No…backhoes aren’t needed…too much that should stay gets taken, and then has to be re-added artificially.
It is best to take it in stages, blackberry digging and becoming an ally…
Your performative allyship is okay…as a start.