Mutual Recognition and Being an Ally

The Black Lives Matter movement has been in the spotlight the last couple of months, after the murder of George Floyd. It has sparked waves of activism as seen through the protests and sharing of information on social media platforms that work to battle police brutality and the systemic racism that our country was built upon. It has also served as a time to remind white people of their privilege and how they can acknowledge that privilege to be ally to the black community.

There are many characteristics that come to mind when we talk about being an ally; empathy, support, decentering yourself, and listening. Most of these qualities are required to be a good ally. However, I am going to take an anti-empathy stance.

Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings, understand their situation. In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, the white population can not possibly understand what it is like to be Black in America. We can educate ourselves, listen to Black voices, and support Black-owned businesses, but we will never truly be able to empathize.

Jessica Benjamin, a psychoanalyst, coined the term mutual recognition. Mutual recognition is recognizing the humanity in another person while they recognize your humanity. Your individualism feeds off of these interactions with others. The theory of mutual recognition can be used to explain how to be a good ally, without claiming to understand.

Recognition does not require understanding. Recognition requires accepting the humanity of the movement and listening to the voices that lead it. We, as white people, are able to check our privilege while recognizing the trauma that Black bodies have faced and are continue to face in our country. We show our support by applying Benjamin’s theory, to view the Black Lives Matter movement as a living, breathing, human demand for change.

Do Our Stories Accurately Represent Us?

An event that happened in your past can determine your future. It can shape and change how you present yourself to the world and your personality. But, do the stories of one’s past reveal a window into their true characteristics and more importantly their humanity. The George Saunders story, “Escape From Spiderhead”, provides insight on how our rhetoric and the stories we tell reflect on us.

George Saunders, in “Escape From Spiderhead”, creates a vivid world that explores power dynamics and how the backstories of characters are curated to feed into these dynamics. In the short story, Abnesti, a warden-like character, has drilled a handful of stories of his life into the mind of the protagonist, Jeff.

Jeff knows that Abnesti has children and he knows the names of his children. Abnesti provides these details to show the audience he is not a bad person. He even asks Jeff the rhetorical question, “Am I a monster?” (68). Abnesti has created a three dimensional portrayal of himself to Jeff. He is a good guy, a father, but this is his job.

While Abnesti has created a humane image of himself, he goes out of his way to selectively chose bad stories that he tells about the “criminals” in Spiderhead. An example of this is when he gives Jeff a file of Rachel’s criminal acts. These acts include going “to jail for drugs”(74) among other crimes. This strips Rachel of her humanity. The backstories used for Abnesti versus Rachel illuminate the power Abnesti holds over her and the other “criminals”. This causes Abnesti to seem like a real human while those under him aren’t. Backstories can lift up those in control while degrading the powerless.