Show Your Work
August 12, 2017 2:05 PM   Subscribe

I wish to be recognized as helping. How can I do that?

I had hoped to compose this in my head a few more months and delay and hem and haw, but I don't think we can do that much longer. Here's what I need:

As a person who by all appearances has won every genetic lottery, how can I show - immediately, at a glance - that I am on your side?

Anything. Any danger, any help. You are in need. I am the first person you see. How do you know I am safe?

I can't see you. I can't speak to you. What is it about me that I've done to show you that I am with you and will help you? Patches? Hats? What do the kids use these as tribal signifiers these days?
posted by Evilspork to Human Relations (54 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I am queer. My preferred haircut used to be shaved on the sides but long on top. Until I heard the new term for that haircut was the "fashey" as in fascist because ducking Spencer wears his hair like that. As a Jew- I DO NOT want people to think I'm a fucking nazi. So now I wear a grown out buzz cut- getting clipped every 3 months or so. A Afab person with a buzz or a grown out buzz reads as queer but not as a fucking nazi. If you're Amab its diff- but find a way to be authentically you- without any of the nastier signifiers. Be a little more cuddlier be a bit softer in your dress. That sort of thing. It sucks that we can't just be ourselves without worrying about connotations- but I'll alter my haircut if it makes fellow Jews and black people and muslims more comfortable around me.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:10 PM on August 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Hey, listen, I'm insufferably white with a Southern accent and I hear you here, because I think about this a lot. But there's nothing we can do passively, in getting dressed in the morning, that's really going to accomplish it. We can wear safety pins; we can wear shirts for good causes; we can avoid wearing clothes that have even the least suggestion of cultural appropriation, or of association with unsafe people (certain sports teams or musicians, NASCAR, etc.)

But that's not enough. That's just speech. What we have to do is do. Keep your eyes open, and if you see something wrong, step in. There's no reason that a POC should instinctively trust even the softest-looking of soft boys or Nice White Ladies. White people have to accept that we haven't earned the benefit of the doubt. We are what we are. We have to wake up, every day, and do good. And if other people are reluctant to believe that about us at first, I cannot blame them.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:18 PM on August 12, 2017 [38 favorites]

"But there's nothing we can do passively, in getting dressed in the morning, that's really going to accomplish it."

Yes, very correct. I know how to talk the talk, or at least figure out how. I know how to keep an eye out. I don't know how to be myself and do the right thing and still make sure I'm doing my best to make sure people can see that I am here if I am not talking or doing. If I am physically able to prevent something but I have not shown I can be trusted to a vulnerable person in need, what good is my talk?
posted by Evilspork at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2017

Trying out this answer to provide an opportunity for correction: rainbows? Peace signs? I'm not kidding at all; I've noticed other people wearing these two symbols and wonder if they might be possible answers here.
posted by amtho at 2:29 PM on August 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wear a tshirt that says "I AM AN IMMIGRANT" every couple of days (I am an immigrant but you don't have to be wear it).

I've gotten some compliments and I've gotten a lot side-eye.
posted by srboisvert at 2:32 PM on August 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

I own and wear a Black Lives Matter shirt frequently. I think it's more useful to just be active in my speech and do things that are anti-racist than to try to find little secret signifiers - especially as a white person I need to own my privilege visibly and possibly put myself in uncomfortable situations because I am in a place to have discussions with other white people that may not be safe discussions for others.

I'm not sure if wearing the shirt really does all that much and I do not wear it looking for any sort of congratulations, but I do think it means something to be out and about in the different neighborhoods of my pretty segregated city, as a white person wearing something with a visibly anti-racist message.
posted by augustimagination at 2:54 PM on August 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

The fact that you want to be read as trustworthy is your privelege talking. It really is. Sit in the discomfort of knowing that most vulnerable people have no reason to trust you, probably don't, and probably shouldn't. It's only when you really start to get that that you'll start actually earning that trust. (It will also help you intervene in more helpful ways, because it won't be about showing what a good person you are but about doing what's actually helpful on any given situation.)
posted by lazuli at 3:09 PM on August 12, 2017 [79 favorites]

Relaxed posture. Avoiding anything that stinks of machismo: showing off biceps, tight t-shirts, swaggering, any kind of stinky alpha male bullshit. Holding your body and maintaining it in a non-rigid fashion. No attitude of trying to be a hero, planning to be First, wowing anyone, being manly, being chivalrous, being a Helper....none of that. The best non-verbal attribute is just acting like a normal human. Acting like a normal human and not being First Responder is a good start. Helping and supporting are more useful than leading, you are right to try to avoid any bestowing of a superhero cape.

In short, your question--'how do I communicate this?' -- Don't. Just don't communicate the opposite.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:13 PM on August 12, 2017 [11 favorites]

I agree with aspects of what lazuli/A Terrible Llama and others have said. Thinking of how I have/would pick someone off the street to turn to if I were in need of urgent help: someone who makes eye contact for more than .025 seconds if we happen to look at each other, who has a pleasant and relaxed default expression, and seems aware of their surroundings (e.g. not the one whose cell phone becomes 10x more fascinating when I'm raising my voice to tell someone on the bus to stop touching me). These are all things that can be learned with effort.
posted by notquitemaryann at 3:28 PM on August 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I don't know what it is, but other friends from the Midwest have experienced this too: As a Midwesterner who hasn't lived in New York for long, I find that lost strangers turn to me for minor help all the time. People from France, Russia, etc. have turned to me for assistance. My brother and I were together here a week ago and got asked for directions by a woman from Turkey, and I asked her how she could tell we weren't from here. I had generally thought I was doing a good job of fitting in here and was a little frustrated to find that maybe it was still obvious. She said it was indeed obvious we weren't from here, but she couldn't quantify why. (I like to think it was a little more obvious that my backpack-wearing, water bottle-toting, blond brother isn't from here, though, heh.)

Of course, it's kind of alternately amusing and frustrating to me that people who aren't from here would go to me for directional help, since I'm really unlikely to have an answer without consulting my phone, but hey, I'm game to try. But I think that's part of it: I'm generally not trying to appear to be anything I'm not. I'm genuine. I'm pretty into radical candor, honesty, openness, and curiosity about the world. Unless I feel like I'll be in danger if I appear open to human interaction, I'm not trying to seem hard or unbothered. I will indeed help you if you need help and I don't think it'll put me in harm's way.

I probably also still suck at dodging eye contact. I'm not going to stare anyone down, but I'll look at people. There are probably a lot of other tells that I don't even know. But to me, if I'm in a situation where I'm afraid, I look for people who also have a certain openness and situational awareness. I look for people I can subtly lock eyes with and exchange a look of "Are you seeing this?" So if I were you, I would work on cultivating mindfulness and situational awareness and appearing open to interaction.
posted by limeonaire at 3:34 PM on August 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

A pride pin or a Hillary patch or an old Obama patch or a BLM pin or something like that is a quick visual sign that at the very last instantly signals 'non-Trump-supporter', which is not nothing if you are a white guy.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

I agree that trust is something to be earned and that appearance won't do much. However, I am vastly more likely to even consider approaching someone that shows inner knowledge of whatever community I'm part of. Generic pins/patches about disability or autism don't make me trust you, but something referencing "neurodiversity" or "autism acceptance" (instead of autism awareness) signify that you are at least involved enough in my community to be moderately sensitive to what I need. However, unless you want to be covered in pins (I say, glancing across the room at my denim jacket covered in pins), that's not really a practical way to show your overall willingness to help.

My aunt bought me this pin, which may be more aggressive than what you're looking for, but I personally would consider it a good signifier of someone who might help me out if I'm in trouble. But I'm also one of those "punch more nazis" queers so I may not be representative of the general population.
posted by brook horse at 4:17 PM on August 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have a "Resist" bumper sticker on my car. YMMV.
posted by Automocar at 4:52 PM on August 12, 2017

Be actually helping. If you're in nyc, don't be sitting down on the subway. Don't be obliviously walking three abreast down the sidewalk. Everywhere: Speak up for what you believe in before you're seeing bad things play out (trust me, you know men who street harass women, you know men who are passing women over for promotions because they think these women didn't earn it/will leave the company to get married or have a kid/are too passive/are too aggressive/are too passive aggressive/whatever, you know white people who make racist "jokes" and other white people who "politely" change the subject, you know cis people who make anti trans "jokes" and people who "politely" change the subject. Maybe they're trans and really cannot safely raise a challenge, it doesn't matter!) and call it out when you do see it. In cases of harassment, ask the person being harassed a neutral question. Don't address the harasser or the harassment. Just ask her where she got her shoes and mention that your wife has been looking for a pair that color/shape/whatever and you think she'd like them. There is bystander intervention training that is based on research. Take a class. You'll meet some people. Don't expect a cookie or a medal or a thank you for stepping up.

You can propose progressive family leave policies in your workplace and your local governing bodies without being a mom or "needing" them yourself.

Volunteer. Recycle and compost. Write letters to your congress people. Show up at town halls and make time to be at BLM events, write checks to planned parenthood and NARAL, tell everyone you know that you and they benefit from easy and legal access to reproductive health care that includes access to abortion. Recognize and appreciate the vast amounts of unpaid and underpaid labor that go into the life you lead. Don't expect a cookie or a medal or a thank you for adding EL to your plate.

Be a known quantity in your neighborhood. Be the family that folks come to for a cup of sugar, emergency babysitting, marriage advice, monthly front porch cocktail (or natty lite) parties. Sponsor a school team, yearbook ad, little league player. Be a regular somewhere. Join a team.

Be in the places that aren't safe. Re-read schroedingers rapist and remember that when I use the phrase "the places that aren't safe," I mean the places that are the least safe for all women, trans kids of color, brown and black people, indigenous people, and anyone you can't think to add to this list. We literally cannot "tell" you are safe until you are gone. Be quiet in those places. Listen a lot. If you're 'amplifying the voices of others,' be specific and not general about whose voices you are amplifying. Absolutely wear a 'punch more nazis' pin, but also go find a nazi slurping up tv coverage and 'playing devils advocate' to punch. Anything you do passively will be read by some/many as "for show" rather than "for real." Don't ask us to assume/believe that you are for real. Be real. Demonstrate that you're helping. Understand that it is never "enough," and never, ever announce that you're one of the good guys, or that you wish we could see all the good you do for us. And definitively don't request a cookie or a medal or a thank you for being decent.

And smile. As women have been hearing for centuries, more people will want to talk to you if you would just smile. (Uuuuuuuugh. But seriously. Smile. It's a good mindfulness exercise. And honest smiles do help build trust.)
posted by bilabial at 4:54 PM on August 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

Seeking recognition for being an ally is counterproductive. Your actions and words shouldn't draw attention back to you -- they should serve as a means for others who are systematically being oppressed to be heard themselves.

If your goal is to be trusted, the same still applies. I don't want an ally whose true goal is really self serving. I don't want to be around someone who secretly (whether consciously or not!) wants to be given a cookie every time they do something "right". If you want me to trust you, your actions should consistently show you are someone trustworthy.

Think on your motivations here. What's your real goal here?

Putting bumper stickers on your car or pins on your shirt are nothing if you don't truly understand what they mean and how you can use your privilege to change the system.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:59 PM on August 12, 2017 [13 favorites]

Do you see a black or brown man being talked to by a police officer? Don't just walk by, stand there, with your phone out, and make eye contact with everyone. A lot of times they are being pulled over for profiling or seeing if they match a case of someone else, and even then, they could get detained for hella weird reason.

If someone is being talked over or ignored in a space, probably by someone with the same appearance as you, be bold and make sure to give them credit and make an active effort. Think about the astronaut guy in Hidden Figures and how he asks for that main character in the room, and not the main character's boss. (That scene of him tearing down the bathroom sign is also not even truthful, in the least. If he was really that good of an ally, he would have not shut the door on her at the end, he would have thought of her as the first person to recruit.)

Intersectional feminism is always about thinking who isn't in the room, questioning the power dynamics and networks of who isn't the room, and making an active effort to bring them in the room. You can do this in your everyday life, not just on the street. I do not care for anyone who talks loudly about how loud or political they are, I watch their actions and see if they understand their privileges to their bones, and then figure out how to bend reality so that more people can have access to privileges that are given to them too easily. The only time I recognize people if they are helping, is if they do it consistently, day in, day out, because it's right, not because they want acknowledgment.

Also, listen, and learn to not be defensive when being corrected on people's experiences that they know way more than you do. White straight cis male entitlement means that your knowledge is automatically given far more credence and authority, even if you know absolutely nothing else. Dismantle the mediocrity you see in your fellow whites (women included), and help people who work really hard and deserve better credit, access to those same spaces. I can talk about this for eons, really.
posted by yueliang at 5:04 PM on August 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

[One deleted - the point about how the OP should re-think their goal has been made. From here on, please stick to constructive suggestions for positive things OP can do in the vein of what they're asking about. If you think there's nothing OP can do, just go ahead and skip the thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:06 PM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I haven't read all the comments here, but....

As a POC, in my fantasy world this is what would happen when I interact with white people even briefly, like having to get around each other on the street (of course, I'm in a city where people are already kind of snobbish and cold towards strangers, so this is even more unrealistic):

1) I want you to give me that warm neighborly smile that communicates 'oh hey one of my neighbors, I see you and I am like you so I'm going to smile.'

2) If you have to deal with me for more than a minute (like in a store or restaurant) make small talk that shows that you want to be helpful, and not grimacing that you have to deal with me

3) Other acts of warm politeness like holding a door open, or complimenting me on my shirt or whatever. Something that acknowledges my presence in warm way (but still keeping appropriate stranger distance) so I know that you don't want to shoot me or kill me or bury me in the desert in some far off country.

That's about it. No pins necessary, that to me might signal that you're just trying to be cool and trendy. I'm pretty sure that other POC would have a different take and more to add to this list, this is just my own personal wish list.
posted by cacao at 5:12 PM on August 12, 2017 [27 favorites]

Oh, one of my neighbors put a sign in front of her door saying in a bunch of languages that all are welcome here, and it really made us appreciate her a lot. As opposed to the neighbor who were terrified of for months because we thought they were avid Trump supporters because of a misunderstanding that we had. It's actually kind of funny how we found out that we were wrong. So it really only takes one signal that you are a friend and not to be feared. How we can know we can actually approach you for help is to do what others have suggested- just actually be helpful. I have some neighbors that are really kind and helpful, and while I don't know their actual politics I feel safe because they are literally helping me live a better life (by helping with all sorts of advice and random favors).
posted by cacao at 5:16 PM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's very rare for a man to have a default smiling face on - rare enough that I am not sure it won't accidentally come across as odd or even creepy, tbh -- but might be worth trying. Women generally smile (even a tiny perfunctory one) when meeting anothers' eyes as a signal of non-confrontation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:24 PM on August 12, 2017

Fingersandtoes- can't men do like a head nod? Or actually, men could just step to the side instead of waiting for me to get out of *their* way. That would be hugely appreciated. I am pretty sensitive to white people and men who walk forward so forcefully that they might hit you if you don't get out of their way (I actually tested it a couple of times to see if playing "chicken" might end with them getting out of the way, it doesn't work out so great).
posted by cacao at 6:52 PM on August 12, 2017 [10 favorites]

I can't see you. I can't speak to you.

If you can't see or speak to me, then you are unable to help me in the event I am being beaten or chased or verbally abused. If you can see or speak to me, I don't need to be convinced of your safety or good politics in order for you to be permitted to yell "HEY LEAVE HER ALONE" at whoever is oppressing me and perhaps ask if I am ok and offer to call the cops if I indicate that I would like that.

I would not feel friendly towards someone who felt that being a man meant they had "won the genetic lottery," no matter how apologetically he carried himself or what badges and pins he stuck on himself. the social lottery, sure. the difference is not insignificant to me.

But most of all, I would ask you to bear in mind that for those women and people of color who carry low-level fear of white men with them most of the time, or who are just cautious and distant around them, asking them to assess you as an individual and judge you accordingly, based on your visual and behavioral signals and signifiers, is making them less safe. because anxiously inspecting every individual Man as he passes, to see if his dress and haircut and facial expression and bumper stickers mean Nice or Naughty, is extraordinarily taxing and bad for the mental health of life's genetic lottery losers -- as I, myself, do not actually like to think of myself, FYI.

What I want from men of all races and stations in life who are strangers to me, but especially from middle-class white men, is for them to demand nothing of me, ask nothing of me, and need nothing from me. The adrenaline rush I feel when a strange man focuses on me in public has little or nothing to do with fear of physical assault or intimidation. it is just an overwhelming sensation of oh christ, what does this one want?

and the blessed relief of discovering he wants nothing and was not actually focusing on me at all, he was just looking over my shoulder at the train schedule, that is what I want.

edit: I take it back just a tiny bit, THIS is what I want above all else and this will engender goodwill where I would have said five seconds ago that nothing could:

"men could just step to the side instead of waiting for me to get out of *their* way."

yes please. this is so much more significant than it may sound.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:55 PM on August 12, 2017 [47 favorites]

Give women (*especially* disabled women) personal space. Don't stand too close to them!

If you could reach out and touch them, that's too close.
posted by Murderbot at 7:24 PM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the double response but I don't want you to think I'm playing dumb by taking issue with your words, when I think I do know what you actually mean. So:

suppose a Something has happened to me, invisible to passers-by, and I really need help and I am surrounded by strangers and, for some reason, none of them are women so I absolutely have to approach a strange man and explain myself and hope he is sympathetic. I do not want to be indebted to a scary Trumpperson or ask help of someone who will outright deny it, out of spite. How do I choose which man to talk to? I do actually have a method:

I look around me and find a man I never noticed until that second when I started scrutinizing all of them. He was sitting by himself reading a book, or talking quietly on the phone, or I don't know what because I never saw him until I started looking around. He wasn't barefoot, he wasn't staring at anybody, he wasn't having loud fun at everyone or cursing angrily to himself because of some general inconvenience (there is a solitary-man way of getting MAD like a kettle boiling over when e.g. a flight's delayed, I call it the "Attention must be paid!" and no amount of privilege-awareness can undo the damage this does.) He isn't in a big group of other men, especially young loud ones. When I say "Excuse me, sir?" he looks right at me and doesn't pretend not to hear, but waits until I finish before he responds.

that's the guy I ask for help.

If I noticed a man by his behavior or loud speech before the need for help arose, I will never go near him. any behavior. even if I only noticed him because he was jumping up and down and yelling on his cell phone about how much he hates fascists. he may be a good ally in the wider world but he will never be the guy I trust in the moment.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:10 PM on August 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

Might be a little glib, but I've never found it to be wrong. Just follow the golden rule, treat everyone how you'd want to be treated. Behave that way in the world and people will take note of your humanity and appeal to it should the need arise.
posted by deadwater at 8:47 PM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

men could just step to the side instead of waiting for me to get out of *their* way.

Honestly this may seem small, but believe me, it's not. Lately I have become so tired of men expecting me to get out of their way that I've started holding my ground, as it were ("playing chicken" as cacao put it). It has not gone well for me either--I've been walked into, and I honestly think the worst part is that the men aren't doing it on purpose--they are so used to having the right if way it's unconscious.

So be conscious of the ways you have an effect on others. This will require a lot of attention and unlearning on your part.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:04 PM on August 12, 2017 [26 favorites]

I just wanted to second the comment about wiping the notion of the genetic lottery from your mind. I've rarely been so irked by a presumably well-meaning metafilter comment. You've been born as a member the arbitrarily dominant culture. Figure out the nuanced difference and internalize it.
posted by namesarehard at 11:05 PM on August 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

If you want to be recognized as helping, then be helpful. Pick up trash on the sidewalk and throw it in a trash can. See a dropped orange at the supermarket--pick it up. Hold the door. Smile. Tip. Move over. Pay a compliment. Acknowledge the other person.
Pins, signs, bumper stickers, and other external signifiers don't mean squat if your actions don't match.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:10 AM on August 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

Since you're talking about 'any danger, any help':
Learn first aid, and then wear something like a patch that shows it. Get certified, and keep your certification current.

It won't tell people that you're an ally to POC, women, gay folks, immigrants and what have you. It's not hip. But helping people not die is a very real way of helping.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:22 AM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

A little nod is probably better than smiling, yeah -- a smile from a strange man would probably read to me as "interested" more than "respectful." ("Respectful" is more or less what the little smile between women means.)

YES PLEASE re personal space and moving out of the way on the sidewalk.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:58 AM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

My 2c distillation of the great points upthread:

If you can't see or speak to any women/POC/WOC, ask yourself: why not? Make a change in your life so that this is no longer the case.

If you can see or speak to women/POC/WOC: pass the mic, take up less space (yes, that means on the subway and on the sidewalk) and just be a normal decent friendly smiling human being.
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:04 AM on August 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another thought on Superhero Syndrome: the world needs you full-time, not just when there is a damsel in distress. Are you also signalling to your sexist bros and racist cousins (tropes, but you get it?) the steps you are taking to fight white supremacy and encouraging them to do the same?
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:16 AM on August 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you are talking about an exigent situation, e.g. post accident or confrontation, ask what the person needs that you can facilitate. Don't just wade in giving instructions.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:19 AM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I find that wearing my BLM pin around does not impact my relations with PoC but it is very impactful with my relations with other whites, often creating situations in which other whites treat me, a tall handsome white man who dresses fairly well and fairly conservatively, much better or much worse than I am used to. To put it another way, I am routinely (and correctly) distrusted by PoC no matter my pin status until proven otherwise, and a BLM pins seems to earn the trust and distrust of different groups of whites than when I go without.
posted by Kwine at 12:18 PM on August 13, 2017

A Black Lives Matter t-shirt is the best sign of intersectional solidarity white people can show, in my opinion, because there is actually a social cost and to white people who display that motto.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:38 PM on August 13, 2017

"Are you also signalling to your sexist bros and racist cousins (tropes, but you get it?) the steps you are taking to fight white supremacy and encouraging them to do the same?"

Long story, but yes.

Shorter long story, I should have given it more context when I said it, but this is what I specifically mean about me myself winning the genetic lottery.

Basically, by winning this genetic lottery, I am in possession of many things and luxuries I did not earn, and thus do not deserve them, and thus choose to give them away until I can't profit from the lottery any more.
posted by Evilspork at 2:15 PM on August 13, 2017

"...because there is actually a social cost and to white people who display that motto."

These are the things I would gladly give up, the lack of social cost, because of the assumption that I'm on the side of the assholes.
posted by Evilspork at 2:16 PM on August 13, 2017

Be careful about giving away your power. Your power is needed to help improve the world.
posted by amtho at 3:21 PM on August 13, 2017

Self care first. ;)
posted by Evilspork at 4:54 PM on August 13, 2017

Finally now catching up on comments, thank you. I intend no bumperstickeritis, and I do take this with utmost seriously. I do appreciate the criticism of certain implicit thoughts, and I try to be aware of those things in everything I do. Thank you very much.

One last thing:

"If you can't see or speak to me, then you are unable to help me in the event I am being beaten or chased or verbally abused. If you can see or speak to me, I don't need to be convinced of your safety or good politics in order for you to be permitted to yell "HEY LEAVE HER ALONE" at whoever is oppressing me and perhaps ask if I am ok and offer to call the cops if I indicate that I would like that."

This is the kind of situation I was thinking of. Fifteen seconds after that immediate danger, you've lost them, and composed yourself. I am the very next person you come across. You know you need help, I do not. I am completely unable to perceive anything is wrong with because of context. Understanding that trust is built, with no other context for either you nor me to work from in that moment, how have I shown that you can trust me now?
posted by Evilspork at 5:06 PM on August 13, 2017

"men could just step to the side instead of waiting for me to get out of *their* way."

Now that I have started to become an older female and can get away with it, I have developed an slightly unkind game that I play with men in suits who assume everyone will get out of their way. I don't. It's amazing how hard the impact can be. When they collide with me they look so astonished, affronted, appalled, even scared. I beam at them over my shoulder as we both keep going as if they had given me a particularly nice compliment. One of these days I will probably get punched... but in the meantime I believe that I am being helpful, as I am teaching them the importance of situational awareness. I see no reason to grant people privileges they haven't earned. Anyone who appears frail, sick, stressed or in a legitimate hurry gets extra space and welcome, because they likely need it, but not men in suits. Perhaps the experience of bashing shoulders with me will save them from being run into someday by someone visually impaired, or getting mugged.

This is similar to sitting beside manspreaders on the bus even if there are a few other seats free, in order to save someone else who might be too uncomfortable to sit there from having to decide whether to sit or to stand, or when I see a large person get on the bus when there are not many seats, making myself as small as possible and giving a slight nod without making eye contact, so they will feel comfortable taking the seat beside me.

But basically, situational awareness is the key. As a person of privilege you have not needed situational awareness, and are probably not aware of how often other people feel threatened in public places and what they feel threatened by. I am trying to learn these things. I recently read how larger people see other people signal reluctance to share a seat with them when they get on the bus, so I have started to signal willingness to share my seat. I am reasonably small, so this is something I can do.

Another thing I do is make very brief eye contact and nod and smile when I see a parent who has a child, if that child is not being absolutely quiet and unobtrusive. I feel it is important for parents to feel that their children are welcome in public places and that their children are not expected to sit still and be quiet. I have a stock phrase for children that are poking into things in waiting rooms and public areas. "It's the intelligent ones that get into everything."

I read a study that people, especially people of Northern European ancestral identification incorrectly identify males of colour, especially African American males as being older, and more experienced and tougher than they are. On average they will identify African American boys as three to four years older. The cop who shot Tamar Rice probably thought he was fifteen or sixteen. So whenever I see an African Canadian man or youth, I estimate his age -say he looks about sixteen, and I subtract three years. Okay, then this kid is probably about thirteen. I also add a positive stereotype about the African Canadian culture that I know about - I don't know very much about African Americans and African Canadians but media makes cliched stereotypes pop into my head, so I attempt to at least counteract that part of my racism to steering it towards positive cliches, and superimpose a picture of a cute kid singing hip hop, or black gospel, and remind myself that given where I live the odds are not small that this African Canadian kid is quite likely to be the son of a doctor, to make sure that my racism is at least not virulently awful, even if I can't turn it off.

When you are in a public place be aware how many threatening potentially scary people there are. Be aware how scary you are, who might be scared of you, and why. Suppose you are on a subway platform, in the evening with six other people. Assess it and consider it: Three white guys, you, one Hispanic woman, a Hispanic man and a Muslim woman. Whom might be afraid of whom and why? What can you do to make sure that everyone feels safe, and to protect them if they are not safe? What would you do if the two Hispanic people left the platform and the three white dudes started watching the Muslim woman?

What would you do if there was a meeting, about fifty people in an auditorium and you noticed that only four of the six people on the platform were speaking: the four men, with two silent women; and although women outnumbered men in the room, the only people in the audience speaking were seven men? How would you stop passively reinforcing this?

Think about the situations you are in by thinking about the places were you go and interact with people and consider what might come up. Maybe there is no subway in the city where you live and you never take public transport. Are you brave enough to speak to any actual people of colour that you know and ask they know of anything you could do to be an ally locally, because of what happened recently in Charlottesville? Or would that be difficult for you?
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:54 PM on August 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

I've gotten some pretty terrible treatment from people that wear the right ally flags and patches and haircuts, and gotten care from people who would not AT ALL have pinged as 'I am an ally'.

Here's an example. A few months ago I was in a tram on the way to the city and I saw this guy creeping on a bunch of young girls he was sitting next to. The girls were getting very visibly disturbed. I told the guy to knock it off and leave the girls alone.

The guy IMMEDIATELY lashes out at me, tells me to shut up or else he'll kill me. Throws racial slurs at me (I am POC, but not the race he was imagining; not that I was about to correct him). Gets really hostile to the point that I am now fearing for my safety.

Immediately two guys came up to where we were. They looked like typical guys, pretty big but not that distinct in terms of appearance or demeanor or whatever. Regular Joe. They both told the creepy guy off and told him to apologise. (I don't remember if the girls moved then and there or later) I moved my seat and thanked them for helping.

Would I have necessarily guessed them to be allies if I saw them? No. I don't think I even noticed them there. But they stood up and did something when we needed help and that counts a lot more than any patch or rainbow could.
posted by divabat at 11:20 PM on August 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

genetic lottery

It's still not a genetic lottery and it's kinda rude to keep repeating that, against the objections of the people you have declared the losers of this same lottery. It's a social lottery: your genes are not inherently better than other people's genes, it's just society that treats them this way. And also, being male is not genetic.
It would serve you well to forget this phrase even though it sounds snappy.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:54 AM on August 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

Or, to phrase it differently: you want to be recognized as helping. But using this wording, when you've been told by the same people who you want to help that it irks them (and why), is not helping.
Listening to us, and taking our feelings into account, would be a form of helping. Because dog knows, that is not happening nearly enough. And actually helping goes a long way towards being recognized as helping.

(Okay, now I've said 'helping' so often that it's lost all meaning.)
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:02 AM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wear a safety pin?
posted by kmennie at 1:16 AM on August 14, 2017

Basically, any attitude of "I've got this! I'm going to help whether you want to or not, in ways that I deem are helpful whether you think they are or not!" is fairly visible to vulnerable people, regardless of anything you're wearing or not wearing. Humility is what you want to be wearing. No hint of Eau de White Savior Complex. Big ears so that you're actually listening to marginalized people and learning from them.
posted by lazuli at 6:37 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not so much with the safety pin.
posted by lazuli at 6:50 AM on August 14, 2017

posted by Evilspork at 7:51 AM on August 14, 2017 have I shown that you can trust me now?

If you're a cis male, you haven't. Period. Moreover, there is no way you could in the circumstances you describe. As a woman, for my own safety cis male strangers must be regarded as a potential threat no matter how they present themselves. Actual life experience has taught me that.

While I appreciate the good will inherent in your desire not to be threatening and your hope to be helpful, directing your efforts toward changing the way you are viewed by the people most likely to be unsafe in public spaces is misguided. It puts the burden of vulnerability on the vulnerable and expects them to alter useful self-protective behaviors for your benefit.

Instead, use your privilege to challenge other privileged people who perpetuate unsafe situations, even when no one can see you do it and you'll get no credit. Do it even when it does nothing to change anyone's perception of you. Do it even if it loses you friends. Do it until you're blue in the face.

I know it feels bad to be misidentified as a threat, but it feels much, much worse to be threatened. Don't expect me to do anything differently so that you can feel less bad.
posted by jesourie at 11:19 AM on August 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Please stop calling yourself a winner of a genetic lottery. Maleness isn't genetic and whiteness isn't either. You benefit from assumptions and cultural biases that you are perpetuating with your statements. Please stop perpetuating and transmitting these and other unnecessary and hurtful weaponizations of language. The rest of aren't losers by virtue of our phenotypes. Sit through several meetings before you ask questions. Definitely don't question the premise of someone's statement. I can't believe I have to ask you not to 'play devils advocate' with women and people of color.

I repeat my suggestions to volunteer and add a suggestion to go to BLM meetings and be quiet in them unless you are asked questions. Feel free to state that you are listening for suggestions for action.

I firmly repeat the advice to not try to be a hero. If I've had a terrible moment of street harassment I am so unlikely to avail myself of someone who I identify as male, almost regardless of what he is wearing, unless he is perhaps wearing a baby and accompanied by an adult woman. The number of times I have been re victimized by a man who seemed trustworthy or offered to help are uncountable in annoy hyperbolic way. Write checks to crisis centers, write checks to planned parenthood, note that most women who are assaulted or abused are victimized by people they KNOW. So listen closely when someone describes a guy in your social circle who is a missing stair, and cut that guy out of your life. These should just be unremarkable every day activities that you do without alerting the people around you how awesome an ally you are for not returning creepy Chad's texts after you Unfriended him on Facebook. Sure, accept the free tote bag from NARAL or RAINN, and sure, use it. Be don't expect me to read it as a shibboleth that you will always comfort yourself with honor. It's not a gamble I can afford to make.
posted by bilabial at 12:34 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Instead, use your privilege to challenge other privileged people who perpetuate unsafe situations"

I do sincerely appreciate every response. I am working on doing my very best to do specific things like the above quote. Those things I can figure out on my own. But when we get hit by times of immediate need, not heroes needed, but normal people doing the right thing, I want to be able to do the right thing. If I am unable to do so because of some choice visual coding choice I've made, THAT is what I want to fix.
posted by Evilspork at 4:45 PM on August 16, 2017

Just do the damn right thing, don't worry about your "visual coding".
posted by divabat at 1:55 AM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you're not the right person to help in that immediate situation, it's ok. You're getting tripped up on your ego here. Sometimes people aren't going to be willing to ask for your help, or willing to accept your help, or willing to see you as anything other than the enemy. That's what systemic oppression does. You can't fix it with a pin.
posted by lazuli at 5:51 AM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Maybe it will help to think about it this way: Racism/sexism/able-ism/etc. tend to lump all members of the disadvantaged group into an indistinguishable mass. That's why, for example, it's common for people to act like one Black person is somehow representing his entire race every time he does something. It's an exhausting unfair burden.

White straight (able-bodied, etc.) men usually don't have to bear this burden. They're seen as full individuals, not representatives of their race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. They're just "Bob," not "the voice of all white straight men." Getting to be "just Bob" in mainstream society is an immense part of privilege, in part because you never have to worry that your mistakes are going to be used not only against you but also against anyone who looks like you.

Recognizing that members of marginalized groups may not, actually, see you as the full individual you are but instead lump you in with your group is often a shock to well-intentioned non-racist White people. Fighting against that, however, is an example of white fragility. It's not helpful. It turns the focus back on your feelings (wanting to be seen as "good") rather than turning it outward onto how you can get over your discomfort and help others. You need to accept the discomfort, allow it to be there, and learn to process it rather than project it onto others (e.g., insisting others not feel uncomfortable around you). This is part of your learning process right now, part of what you need to do to help dismantle white supremacy. I'm being 100% serious right now. You need to start working this out internally or everything else you do will be tainted by it. It's hard, and it's never going to be perfect, because this whole oppressive system is part of every single interaction we have and it's a ton of work to start untangling ourselves from it (and I'm not sure it's possible for those with privilege to ever be 100% free of it). Do this work.
posted by lazuli at 6:04 AM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

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