I honestly want to like #illridewithyou. It was inspired by a sweet gesture, a woman trying to remove a hijab on a train for fear of attention was comforted by a stranger who offered to accompany her: “I’ll walk with you.” Even the hastag creator made a well-meaning offer to ride on the bus with any Muslim Australians who wanted to feel safer. However, the use of this hashtag to express solidarity with Muslim Australians makes me feel very uncomfortable because it implies an unequal relationship. Used in a call for tolerance, the structure “I’ll ride with you” makes the speaker the centre of attention, with Muslim people as the object of our benevolence. It’s the race relations equivalent of a popular, cool friend who takes you to the front of the queue outside an exclusive club, mentions to the bouncer “it’s cool, they’re with me” and both get access beyond the velvet rope. That’s not equal and implies dependence on someone else’s goodwill for access to the same opportunities that we take for granted.
This is something that’s both bothered and conflicted me for some time. While I’m always heartened at growing empathy with gender, ethnic, and sexual equality movements and identities, I can’t help but feel that in exchange for acceptance there’s sometimes an implied demand for a stake in the emancipation of others.
The problems is the importance of our role. The success of any equal gender, ethnic, or sexual rights movement depends on both the strength of a well-organised community with concrete aims and methods, and the ability to humanise their lives as equal to the mainstream population. The efforts of the community demanding equality are 90% of the work, yet we often mythologise validation by the mainstream as more important. The success of a Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk, or Helen Clark would be conditional upon our generosity, which is ridiculous. We pay huge amounts of attention to celebrate those within the mainstream when they acknowledge our equality. When Wallaby David Pocock announced he and his partner won’t get married unless gay people have the right too. When male British political party leaders gained attention for wearing t-shirts stating ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’. In their defence, their actions can individually be admired. Yet together there’s an implication through media and public reactions that struggles and voices of groups and communities fighting for equality matter less than the feelings of their powerful allies. Gay marriage isn’t validated as a human right by the support of a masculine, straight rugby players, nor is feminism legitimised by the support of men. They’re each legitimate causes based on fundamental needs equally as human to those considered ‘normal.’
Solidarity with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be accompanied on public transport or protected. At worst, it’s patronising to suggest Muslim Australian safety is dependent on our goodwill and at best a congratulatory collective sigh of relief that another Cronulla Riots hasn’t occurred. Never mind that #illridewithyou solidarity is not being shared with Muslim asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat who are now in prisons on Nauru and Manus Island.
Being a good ally means walking lock-step, arm in arm or cheering from the sidelines, not being centre of someone else’s movement. In a perfect world, two friends or colleagues who are naturally friendly with would regard anything about their gender, ethnicity, or sexuality regarded as matter of fact – mutually. If both were on a train and one was confronted by a public transport racist ranting at them to go back home, both can look at each other smiling and simultaneously say “Piss off and don’t be such an asshole.”