Monday, April 08, 2013

George Takei and allies

So, George Takei.  Actor, gay rights activist, awesome human being, really popular on Facebook.  Cool guy.  I like him a lot.  He often posts about social justice issues and puns.

But last Tuesday, this happened:

And this... is not okay.  Cringingly clicking through to the comments, to my surprise I found many people pointing out that this was not okay ally behavior, that assuming strippers/sex workers are automatically and necessarily bad or damaged people is all kinds of messed up and contributes to a culture of gendered shame, and that perpetuating such stereotypes isn't particularly classy of him.  We were all very, very disappointed that our hero chose to engage in such hateful and bigoted rhetoric.

Then the following day, this happened:

And this?  This is fabulous.  This is a dude

  1. actually listening when something problematic is pointed out to him,
  2. examining his own motivations and values in the context of the new knowledge,
  3. acknowledging that he messed up,
  4. and promising to learn from this and work on doing better. 
This is good ally work.  I do have a few issues with his apology in that I'm not quite convinced he completely got the point about slut-shaming being No Really A Real Problem when he asserts that it's somehow 'sad' that women make money by 'using their bodies rather than their minds.'  This invisibles women who choose this work, who enjoy it, who... you know what?  To tell you the truth, I am extremely unqualified to talk about sex work, as I am not in that field and have not done extensive research/empathizing regarding it.  If you're interested in such topics, I'll refer you to this excellent piece

Additionally, we need to teach our girls to 'value themselves' higher, without correspondingly teaching our boys to value the girls, too?  Way to drop the ball on that one, George.  

Suffice it to say that I have a few quibbles and I don't think it's completely free of problematic elements quite yet. 

But!  He listened, grokked what was wrong, and learned from it.  This is someone putting in the effort that's required to do good ally work.  

One of the critical points of this social justice thing is that 'ally' is not simply a nametag you slap on your shirt and then get to claim.  Being an ally takes work.  It means understanding and checking your privilege, genuinely listening to those in marginalized populations, and owning up when you mess up (and we all will mess up, I guarantee it).   A convenient label is far too often wielded as a deflection by those desperate to avoid acknowledging a misstep, and it presupposes that being an aware and empathetic person has an end point.  There is no final goal in this process; the process is the whole point, and it's so important to remember that.  

We know that George is an awesome, aware, inclusive guy.  We know he's on the side of social justice.  But he doesn't get a free pass because of that identity.  The difference between an end-goal ally identity and the allied behavior process is why he cannot (and did not) get a free pass when he slips up.  Being usually a decent person doesn't mean you didn't still mess up when you messed up, and it's critical to point that out.  

Melissa over at Shakesville has this to say about 'being' and ally versus doing ally work.   As always, she is incredibly erudite and wields her insight-hammer with breathtaking precision.  It's well worth a read.  

Finally, I must link to Jay Smooth's excellent video about this very topic.  He's specifically taking on racism, but it holds for any bigotry or unexamined prejudice.  The point is not who you are; it's what you say and do.   Nobody said George was a bad person for this (or if they did, that wasn't very helpful or considerate of them).  They pointed out that what he said was thoughtless and damaging.   And to his credit, he responded beautifully.

It's a great process to see in action. 


  1. My absolute favorite celebrity ally apology, Jason Alexander, aka George Costanza from Seinfeld, linked here:

    You'll note a couple things: 1) It's coming from a place of honest consideration, introspection, and conversation. 2) It's not coming from a place where he was singled out as part of controversy and needed to make an apology. That's not to say that if there's a controversy surrounding something you said, your apology is automatically less valid BUT it feels a whole lot more significant when you didn't have to at all.

    In contrast, George Takei's apology just feels weak to me. It feels like he's apologizing for something, but doesn't quite get what. Like he's almost there and then circles around to a different point as a defense. I don't know. I like him. I'm not going to dislike him just because he doesn't get it (he's a 75 year old gay man, I'm sure he doesn't have a lot of 21 year old female stripper friends to ask for their opinions...though, I guess I'm generalizing there.) But I still want better from him, since he's such a prominent member of the community.

    1. Jason Alexander link not be linky. :( Here is linky link.

    2. Wow. That is, indeed, a lovely apology. He really got it that these things don't happen in a vacuum and even if it seems funny and 'harmless,' it exists in a framework of so many little aggressions and judgements and stereotypes that are already leveled at those who don't 'fit'.

      And yes, George's apology is a little weak. I'm not entirely convinced that he knows what people were pointing out, and he focuses on his intent instead of his actual words and effect. And then goes on to reinforce that parents wouldn't want their girlchildren to grow up to be pole dancers, implying that he entirely misses the point about strippers not necessarily being bad/damaged/inferior people. Sigh.

      So perhaps I'm being a little generous. But it's so damn nice to see anyone giving a damn at all.


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