Don’t…

call yourself an ally.

Just don’t.  You may think you’re an ally. You might actually be one, at times. But, don’t call yourself an ally.

Note, I didn’t say you can’t be one, nor did I say you can’t strive to be one. I’m simply saying don’t call yourself one.

I don’t care if you volunteer for the local LGBTA+ outreach group, if you serve on a women in tech diversity panel, or have all the “right” stickers on your car or laptop. You can do all the right things and be an ally, but don’t call yourself one.

Now, if members of the groups you’re helping want to call you an ally, that’s great. You’re doing good work. You’re doing something right. And it’s ok to enjoy the praise and thanks, a bit. But, still, don’t call yourself an ally.

Here’s the thing, I’ve got about every privilege box I can check in the US. I’m white, cis-het male, with a decent income. I have friends and family members that don’t quite hit all those boxes. I like to think I use my privilege to help others.

And it’s true, I’ve found in online debates I can say almost the exact same thing one of the people identifying as female says and somehow my words get taken with more gravity.

And yes, in the IT field, I’ve seen multiple times my coworkers talk over or ignore someone who wasn’t cis-het male, despite the other person’s knowledge and wealth of experience.

I’ve used my privilege to try to bring equality into the IT spaces I’m in. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, sometimes I’ve failed.

I’ve called others out for homophobic jokes, cat-calling and more.

But, as I’ve grown older, and I like to think wiser, I’ve realized even more, how I can’t call myself an ally.

It’s not for lack of effort. Let’s be clear, NO amount of effort will allow me to call myself an ally. And here’s why:

I’m not a member of the groups I’m trying to help. I’ve never truly experienced the discrimination and bigotry they’ve faced. Even when I’ve been associated with them, I’ve come to realize I’m “other”. This isn’t a fault or a failing, simply my reality. I can be among a group of gay men celebrating a friend’s birthday at the Green Lantern in Washington DC, and be perfectly comfortable, but know I’m “other”. And they know it too. The next day at work, even if I encountered a homophobic coworker, I can still disassociate myself from that weekend’s activities. It’s not a core part of WHO I am, it’s simply a part of something I did.

If I support women in tech, and I’d like to think I do, no matter how well I listen, I won’t truly have the gestalt experience of walking to my car at night wondering, if something happens, will someone’s first question be, “Well, what where you wearing?”  I’ll never be in a meeting and have an idea shot down and wonder, “was my idea dismissed because it was bad, or because of my gender presentation?”

I will always be “other”.

In a related manner, I can, intentionally, or unintentionally stop being an ally in an instant. I can intentionally choose to sit down and not be an ally.  Or, I can make a misstep and fail as an ally. And I don’t get to decide if I’ve succeeded or failed.

I will give an example of this: via Twitter I saw one woman speaker comment on how she felt offended that she had been asked, in part because of her gender, to speak at a conference. The person approaching her had made it clear he wanted more women to speak. Generally, this could be seen as being a good ally; making sure conferences aren’t full of manels and/or only have a slate of male speakers. Other women stepped in and said they wouldn’t be offended at all, that they appreciated the effort to include more women, even if at times it came across as ham-fisted or overly obvious.

So here’s the thing, the person asking probably thought of himself as an ally and might have called himself one. But, clearly the first woman didn’t agree, but others did. This is why he can’t call himself an ally, but others can. Perspective makes a huge difference here.

So in conclusion, let me end with what I opened with: not only can you work to be an ally, I would in fact encourage you to work to help others obtain the privileges and opportunities you have. BE an ally. But let OTHERS determine if you’re their ally. If they call you an ally, great! Keep it up.

If they however tell you that your actions or words are not helpful, listen to them. They are in the best position to determine what helps them. Unless they ask for input, don’t tell them what they’re doing wrong or why they’re wrong to not accept their help.

42

How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? – Bob Dylan

There’s a trailhead to Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks that starts on an old forest road. It’s probably left over from the days of logging. I haven’t been on this trail in probably 20 or more years. It might be closer to 30. And yet, for some reason I can picture it in my mind almost perfectly. Or at least I think I can. I mean without going back, how can I be sure I accurately remember it? But the reality in my mind is that I recall it perfectly.

I also remember key points along the trail. Sometimes I will wander down this road in my memory and remember the joys of this particular hike. I should do it again someday.

There are many physical roads like that that I travel down in my mind and hope to go back to again someday.

But, at night, as I lay in bed, there are some roads in my mind I find I just can’t travel down anymore. Or at least not now, perhaps in the future. Last night as I was drifting off, I started to remember my father’s property in the years soon after he bought it. It had a number of outbuildings that had been built over the years. I’m still not sure what they were used for, since it was a never a working farm or anything like that, and even so they weren’t the sort of buildings one would use for such a purpose. I do recall one had some old nudes pasted on the wall.  I remember having grandiose plans for turning one into sort of a clubhouse for me and my friends, but for various reasons… life happened and that didn’t.

Travelling down this particular road started to bring up other memories of my father, who would have been 72 this year. And I stare down these lanes of memory and have to stop myself. Some I know I can explore and laugh and smile as I travel down the fond memories, others… well I have built gates across them. The memories are too close and too raw and I fear if I travel down them any distance I’ll get lost in those memories and the pain will be too much. So, I look over the gate and say, “not now…”

Gradually I’ve found some of those gates I can open, but not all.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say. – JRR Tolkien

My father introduced me to both the poet and author I quote here, but he was more fond of one, and I the other. I’ll leave it to the reader to guess or know which is which.

So, I don’t know how many roads I have to travel down, or how many I can. But they’re there, beckoning.

Too Many Tabs Open

It’s been one of those “busy-slow” weeks. I get these sometimes when I’m consulting. On one hand I’m busy, but work is slow. What do I mean? Well Monday I was on a train all day (literally other than a 1.5 hours layover in NYC) coming back from Atlanta. That’s another story but suffice to say, I wasn’t much in the mood to get work done. Tuesday, when I generally write this blog, I had a couple of customer meetings and was busy, and then the rest of the day busy with non-client work. Same with Wednesday and Thursday.

Finally today, I had a few minutes to catch up on some stuff. I FINALLY took the time to look at one of the tabs I had open in my browser. Admit it, you do it too. “Oh look, that’s cool I want to read/watch/listen to that, but not now, I’ll just keep that tab open.” And then weeks later you’re like, “what is this tab?”

In this case it was a video post by Grant Fritchey on “Why friends don’t let friends upgrade to SQL 2014.”  I was curious about this because at a client I had to recently upgrade two servers to SQL Server 2014. I had preferred SQL Server 2016 or 2017, but the 3rd party software vendor said “no”.  Fortunately nothing bad has happened, but, it’s posts like Grant’s that I appreciate because it helps broaden my knowledge base.

One thing that makes humans incredible is our ability of language and ultimately our ability to create forms of communication that transcend time.  None of us can learn EVERYTHING. But what we can learn is who knows more than we do, or how to access that information. If I want information on query tuning, I’m going to ask Grant or pick up one of his books. If I have a question on Power BI, I might reach out to Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman or Cathrine Wilhelmsen. In other words, I don’t need to be an expert on everything, though I’d like to be! I just need to know who to reach out to.

Similarly with my cave rescue world. I’m proud to say I work with some of the greatest people in the world, people who literally have written the book on cave rescue. And yet, at our recent meeting (the reason I was down South), two of my colleagues, Roger Mortimer and Eddy Cartaya reported back on their trip to Europe where they attended the ICARS conference and brought back some great information on how the Europeans are doing some things differently when it comes to cave rescue. This has prompted some discussion between Roger and myself on some medical topics.  Again, none of us are the complete expert on the field, but we know enough to know what we know and don’t know and how to learn more.

So, keep those tabs open and keep adding to them. I know I’ve got at least one video on air plane accidents I need to listen to when I get 30+ minutes. What tabs do you have open?