A few weeks ago, the linked article crossed my news feed, and I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to say about it ever since. This pull quote sums up the article pretty well:

Any movement that doesn’t embrace, encourage, and educate their allies isn’t going to move pebbles, let alone mountains.

But I like how the author uses the term “conscientious insider” throughout, rather than talk merely of allies. This focus on inside and outside is important, and I hope you start to ponder the idea just as I have for the past few weeks. Now, I don’t totally agree with everything that the author says, but the ideas Gillespie presents helped me frame ideas of my own in a more concrete way.

I’ll first talk about this notion of “conscientious insider” and why it is a term more meaningful than “ally.” Then I’ll talk about where I disagree with the author.

Gillespie never uses the term, but she is talking a lot about privilege:

On the other hand, I do have influence with entrepreneurs. I’ve coached hundreds of them, and I’ve been one myself for more than 20 years. So when I take a stand about gender and race diversity in the work place I have power. My voice means something. I’m white, and I’m cis-gendered, and I prefer men. If I were male I’d have all the advantages.

Privilege is power, and by owning privilege, that power can be used for change.

So when I stand up for marriage equality and workplace diversity I have the clout to be heard. Individual clients and groups will listen to me because I am one of them and they know I have no stake in the culture shift except my own soul-deep beliefs in what is right.

When we talk about someone as an “ally” we position them in relation to ourselves. When we talk about someone as a conscientious insider, we position them in relation to their privilege. And that’s an important distinction! It uses open eyes to look past an us vs them mentality. Every movement needs allies. Every movement needs conscientious insiders, because for movements to succeed, they must grow, or their message must grow and resonate regardless of how big the movement is.

When we talk about someone as a conscientious insider, because we recognize and name their privilege, we also hold them more accountable. Anyone can say they are an ally, but the proof is (as they also say) in the pudding. It is what they do that matters, not merely that they claim to identify as “with us.”

Here’s where I don’t agree with the author:

Your rant might touch a heart or two. It might make someone say, “hmmmm” and shift their ideas just a tad. But to create system wide change you have to make it an inside job.

In my opinion, that’s a crock of shit. Change and cultural shift happens as more and more people have their hearts touched or say “hmmmm.” To claim it has to be an inside job suggests that any movement is powerless on its own and history just proves that to be wrong. Consider the efforts at Stonewall, or the efforts of Act Up and AIDS activists. Act Up shut down the Stock Exchange and forced changes to access and affordability of potential live saving drugs.

All those “tads” add up a little at a time, until, like a snowball, it gets bigger and bigger. Often, as more and more people get it, whatever it is for your movement, the lines between us and them, or insiders and outsiders, get less distinct. Some cultural change happens because the flood gates finally open and there are more allies than anti folks, and culture can’t do anything but change.

In the end, conscientious insiders help push cultural change because they place greater value on looking past the boundaries between inside and outside, to see everyone as part of the same group. Cultural change happens when the dignity of eveyone is placed as more important than the privilege of only some.

Here’s the full article from the Good Men Project.

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