Ally Issues: On Being Mean

I had to be mean the other day. It was not something I wanted to do, because usually I'm pretty generous and charitable, or at least I like to think so (despite many exhortations and declarations that I am a terrible human being, but people are always a work in progress, you know), so having to be really stern with folks on the internet does not come easily to me.

Unless like, they're not around, in which case, I let it rip.

Wannabe allies always make a big deal about how you attract more flies with honey, so taking an abrasive approach to dealing with continual questions and a lot of FAIL is counter-productive. And in certain cases, it certainly is.

What wannabe allies don't get, though, is that when one is at the receiving end of the continual, neverending barrage of FAIL, patience wears thin. Kindness gets overpowered. And then you get the Mean POC who just won't understand that people are trying to help.

The thing is, and I said this while I was being mean, I do, as do many of my peers who work in anti-racism. I get even meaner when I have well-meaning folks telling me to be more patient, be kinder, be nicer, oh please understand we just want to help!

I think people fail to understand that when we engage, we already have to assume the best of wannabe allies, and end up being disappointed a lot of the time by the responses to us. It's so very hard to keep being patient, keep talking, and keep sharing, when we are faced by combative opponents who are intent on dismissing our arguments, on people who just don't listen anyway even after hours of explanation, and well-meaning folk who really do want to learn! But expect us to teach them everything.

So, we go mean. We don't do this to be querulous and we don't do this to alienate folks.

We do it because we face querulous folks who alienate us. It is the one way to retain our patience for others who would be more receptive. Not everyone has the energy to field the same question a bajillion times. Some do. I don't. I mean, I can, but on a limited basis. It's not like I have a very wide audience.

So it's tiresome when we get clueless people telling us that we be nice all the time and continuously advising us on our own damn work as if we don't already know what it is they're telling us.

The girl I was mean to? She was trying to be nice to me. She was trying, in her own way, to tell me she understood my position and wanted me to keep on educating. But she was telling me stuff I already knew, giving me advice on how to be patient, that there are always different people, and that I need to not give up - shit I already knew and did not need to hear from some person who just got my memo.

It wasn't comforting to me to hear her words - it was patronizing. And sometimes, there's just only one way to respond: by saying, point blank, QUIT IT.


  1. If the incident you're referring to was that commenter, you were superhumanly patient and I was really, really impressed even at the kindness of your meanness.


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