Who the Hell Wants to Be an “Ally?”

By Shaun Tan

By Shaun Tan

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Staff Writer


Black Lives Matter protest in Cincinnati, May 2020

Being an “ally” is incredibly trendy nowadays. I don’t mean “ally” in the traditional sense of the word, as in “supporter” or “friend,” nor in the international relations sense, as in someone you’d fight for and who’d fight for you. I mean it in the leftist sense of the word, as in “people from historically dominant groups who strive to improve treatment of disadvantaged groups, like men in the feminist movement or white activists working on behalf of Black Lives Matter.”


People have been using the term in this sense for years, but it really went mainstream with the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by George Floyd’s horrific killing in the summer of 2020. Suddenly, white liberals and leftists seemed to be falling over themselves to declare their allyship with black people and pledging support to the racist and toxic Black Lives Matter movement that rode the wave of public outrage (and, since every other race is apparently “historically dominant” compared to blacks, liberals and leftists of other races engaged in this performative allyship too).

George Floyd protest in Miami, 6th June 2020 (Picture Credit: Mike Shaheen)

This might have seemed quaint at first, but the more odious aspects of this allyship soon became apparent. There were the ridiculous spectacles of white people bowing down to black people and begging their forgiveness for the abuses they (or, more likely, their ancestors) suffered at the hands of other white people, and even washing the feet of black community leaders to show their remorse. (A YouTuber had a field day with this, randomly approaching white people on the street, telling them that he worked for Black Lives Matter, getting them to kneel to apologize to black people for their “white privilege,” and posting humorous videos of them doing so.) It also became clear that “allies” were expected to abide by a strict code of conduct. “Silence was complicity,” so they had an obligation to speak out publicly against the purportedly racist system. However, they could only speak out in a particular way; they were not allowed to question the memory of George Floyd or the Black Lives Matter movement, or say anything that didn’t fit with the prevailing leftist orthodoxy, as this would undermine the “struggle.” Thus it was that a good “ally” was basically a mindless automaton who could only parrot pre-approved Black Lives Matter slogans.

A good “ally” was basically a mindless automaton who could only parrot pre-approved Black Lives Matter slogans.

I can relate. Years ago, I made the acquaintance of a Malaysian LGBT activist, who messaged me on Facebook because I had written something in support of LGBT rights in Malaysia. (LGBT folk in Malaysia do face heavy persecution, particularly from Islamist authorities who view them as freaks and their lifestyles as affronts to their religion.) He later invited me to join a Facebook group supporting the right of LGBT people to live (and love) in peace. About two years back, he kicked me out of that group because I upset some people there by questioning if biological males who transitioned to females should be able to compete in women’s sporting competitions and not buying into the notion of absolute gender fluidity (the idea that someone automatically becomes whatever sex he/she decides he/she is on any given day). Basically, I was an “ally” when I expressed support for LGBT rights, but when I showed that I wasn’t completely on board with every aspect of the prevailing orthodoxy of the group (including what I see as the fantasy that people can automatically change sex at will), I was no longer an “ally” and had to be excommunicated.

Flag identifying you as a straight “ally” of LGBT folk

This month, a study by Michael Kraus, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Jun Won Park, a researcher at Princeton, confirmed what some had long suspected. It surveyed over 100 social movement (apparently leftist) activists and conducted experiments on them to find out what they perceived as “good allies.” (I recommend reading one of the articles about it here.) It ultimately identified two key traits activists were looking for in “allies:” trustworthiness and deference. Of all the possible combinations of traits, activists wanted “allies” who were highly trustworthy (characterized by helpfulness, selflessness, and loyalty) whilst having low levels of influence (characterized by power, centrality, and impact). An article on the study put it thus: the activists thought that “the people directly affected by an issue should be the ones to decide which goals are most important and how to achieve them,” and they wanted “allies who were willing to work towards someone else’s vision.”


In other words, the “allies” these leftist social movements want are people who will blindly follow them, who will give them unconditional support whilst being content with having no say at all, who will subordinate their own judgment to them to become cogs in their machine. This is not dissimilar from what many corporations want from their employees – except, of course, employees of corporations actually get paid whilst “allies” of social movements support them and work for them for free, often even giving them money. In international relations, the term “ally” has a highly specific meaning: an ally is a partner who you treat as an equal, and to whom you have reciprocal obligations of mutual defense – if one of you is attacked, the other must come to his defense. However, because, in leftist parlance, an ally is someone from a more historically dominant group helping to improve the treatment of more disadvantaged groups, the latter have no reciprocal obligations towards the former; that is, whilst a good ally is expected to have the backs of these activists, these activists aren’t obliged to have their ally’s back in return, and so the relationship is completely one-sided. Someone in a relationship like this doesn’t sound like an ally at all. What do you call someone who’s mindlessly loyal to a movement he’s not allowed to question? A cultist. What do you call someone who’s expected to serve someone else whilst getting nothing in return? A slave.

What do you call someone who’s expected to serve someone else whilst getting nothing in return? A slave.

Given this, who in their right mind would want to be an “ally?” For those sympathetic towards worthy leftist causes (and there are some worthy ones), here are some healthier alternatives. Instead of being an “ally,” whose meaning has become so corrupted, be a “supporter” or a “friend.” A true supporter of a cause does not support a movement that invokes its name unconditionally, and objects or withdraws from it if he sees that it’s lost its way, just as a true friend will tell you when you’re wrong. Above all, think for yourself, and never surrender your critical faculties to anyone, for any reason. If other people in a movement are in a position to know better, it makes sense to listen to them carefully and give them a chance to convince you, but in the end make up your own mind. Follow your own conscience and your own common sense, and break with a movement sooner than abandon either. Group cohesion might justify putting smaller differences aside to work towards the greater good, but you must always be free to question and to voice your doubts – and be suspicious of anyone who demands you give up that freedom; a movement that’s intolerant of dissent, that requires mindless conformity, deserves neither your time nor your respect.