Overfamiliarity is an occupational hazard that all dominant social categories are prone to when engaged in being allies of socially marginalised categories of people. For example, a White liberal may decide it is okay if they use the N-word because they are “not racist”. Similarly, an upper caste Hindu “ally” in India may decide that they are allowed to be casually casteist or Islamophobic because they are “allies”.
This is not so. It is important to remember who we are. Understanding and supporting someone’s struggle is not the same as being them. And if our “allyship” only serves to embolden casual discrimination, then it is clear we don’t understand much about anything at all. We will always be outsiders. The best we can be is conscious and conscientious outsiders.
Another thing that does not help at all is upper caste Hindu outrage at being called upper caste Hindu. Why wouldn’t someone call us out as what we are? Why would we feel like we deserve to be exempt from the labels that our ancestors designed to protect us?
No amount of allyship will take away the fact that despite all our sympathy and empathy, we still do very much enjoy our social and cultural privileges. And we actually don’t know what being the other means or involves. We will never share the lived experience of someone from a marginalised category and we will always be outsiders. So before we say “how can you say that to me? I have done so much for you,” think about where such outrage places you. Are you an ally because you care, or because you want to look and feel good?
The number of woke causes that hijacked by people with more privilege is not small at all. And such hijacking only serves to make social conditions worse for those whose suffering gave birth to that movement in the first place.
Our (upper caste Hindu) comfort is not the goal of any social justice movement. We are plenty comfortable as it is. And in a way, comfort is at the root of this problem. We need to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with who we are and what our privilege represents. Things won’t change with privileged folks high-fiving each other for being so cool and woke. They will change when we stand back and let the focus shift to those we want to be “heroes” for.