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Digital Subscriptions > Boston Review > Allies (Fall 2019) > THE PRIVILEGE OF THE ALLY


I FINALLY SAID IT aloud on a panel at AWP (the annual creative writing conference organized by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs). I don’t remember which city, but I can’t forget the gasp from a fellow panelist, a Native American woman who immediately wanted to rein in my “hostile language.” Meanwhile, the poet sitting next to me, a Palestinian American, gave me a discreet thumbs-up. The entire panel—on addressing whiteness—was made up of poets of color representing various ethnic groups. The presumption was that we would unite our experiences and observations into a collective wisdom.

But the presentations became more and more tense as we took turns to address one of the moderator’s questions about forging alliances with other groups. It made the assumption that all ethnic groups belonged to a single coalition. I cringed, as if we were supposed to break into song celebrating diversity and solidarity. There were barely audible groans of protest and disagreement on the stage, but we got through the conversation without bloodshed. When it was time for the audience Q&A, however, I unleashed what many had been thinking: that we have to privilege the mission of activism over bonds with outsiders because people of color tend to prioritize healing others’ wounds before their own. This self-harming altruism has, in the long run, distracted from important work at hand and exhausted us.

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About Boston Review

Allies is the first publication of Boston Review's newly inaugurated Arts in Society department. A radical revisioning of the magazine's poetry and fiction, the department unites them—along with cultural criticism and belles lettres—under a project that explores how the arts can speak directly to the most pressing political and civic concerns of our age, from growing inequality to racial and gender regimes, a disempowered electorate, and a collapsing natural world.