There are always things floating on the web that serve to call out people who think they are Allies, who proclaim themselves Allies, but who don’t actually help. Who actually make things worse. If you are an Ally who is helping, this story will not bother you. If you are the other kind, it’s probably going to annoy you quite a bit.
This is a true story. The events happened as I have written them here. This has not been tweaked to make the metaphor better.
Ten or more years ago, I was driving towards one of the most dangerous intersections in the state (according to the Department of Transportation! No shoulder, extremely busy, tons of semis and people not paying attention to what they are doing). My station wagon abruptly died. I had no cash on me, and about $40 in the bank that had to last for two weeks no matter what — I could not spend it on anything but the things it was budgeted for.
So there was a guy walking across the intersection, and he asked if I needed help. I said, yes, please, we need to push the car around the corner and about half a block to a parking lot where I could figure out what I was going to do. He said “Sure, I’ll help.”
He started trying to flag down cars. I said “What are you doing?” He said “I’ll see if someone has a cell phone so they can call you a tow truck.”
“I have a cell phone,” I said. “I can’t afford a tow truck. I just need to get me and my car out of this intersection.”
He ignored me, and proceeded to flag down a semi. The driver leaned out and asked what the problem was, and the dude who thought against all evidence he was being helpful told him to call a tow truck.
At this point I came unglued. I said, loudly, “I don’t need a tow truck, I can’t afford a tow truck, please don’t call a tow truck because I have no way to pay for one! Thanks for stopping but I just need a push.”
The guy who was not really helping, who was actually distracting me from the task, looked hurt, and then he said “But you need a tow truck.”
At this point? I’d had enough. I was tired, stuck in a dangerous position, not a little humiliated. I said “Are you going to help me push?”
He said “I tried to get you a tow truck.”
I told him to f* off if he wasn’t going to help me push my car.
About that time a friend of mine happened to be driving by. She’s about 2/3 the size of the guy who couldn’t figure out that I knew exactly what help I needed. She pulled into the parking lot, ran back, and at no small risk to herself helped me push my car out of the dangerous intersection, to a place where I could get under the hood and figure out what I needed to do to get it running and get home.
So: were both of these people Allies?
There was no ideological test going on here, it was purely practical. Person X could not internalize what my problem was, so all he did was work on a “solution” that was actually more harmful than if he had just walked on by. Person Y actually jumped in and helped me do what needed to be done.
And that’s what’s going on here. This isn’t about passing a purity test. This is about actions. Is someone helping? They are an Ally. Is someone complaining that their feelings are hurt because they are doing what they think I need and I am telling them it isn’t? Not an Ally.
If a hundred people had come by and all of them had not only suggested a tow truck but told me that it was the best and correct solution to my problem, even though it was a solution that I considered and rejected for perfectly rational reasons (because if I had had access to a couple hundred bucks, I would have called a tow truck myself and had it towed to my mechanics), by the hundred and first I would be saying “Can you help me push? A tow truck is out of the question” and if they stood there and argued with me about how a tow truck was indeed the best solution, I would then be saying “Help me push or f* off.”
I’ve caught some flak (not a lot, but a little) from some people for “not recognizing that you need Allies.”
I know that I need Allies. (I also need more of the LG part of the LGBT community to figure out that I’m part of the community, not just someone they can call when they want money or a vote and can be swept under the rug the rest of the time.)
What I don’t need are people who get upset when I get angry because they are calling a towtruck I cannot afford when what I really need is a quick push that will be easier if more of us are pushing.
Oh, yeah. I never finished the story. The not helpful guy? When he finally quit trying to get me a towtruck? He walked away. He didn’t help push. He never intended to give me the help I needed, only the help that he decided I needed. He took his ball and went home.
(inspired by a conversation with a friend on a social media site)