Modifying Silk Ring Theory for Allyship (Medium.com)
by Namira Islam on Medium.com:
‘How not to say the wrong thing’ applies to solidarity in racial justice work too
In early 2015, during my father’s battle with cancer, I came across this 2013 gem of an article by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman in the LA Times on “how not to say the wrong thing” to someone undergoing a medical crisis. They called it the “‘Ring Theory’ on kvetching” and mentioned that it’s applicable to many different forms of crises.
The article is short and well-worth the read, but here’s the first of two excerpts I’m focusing on for this exercise in solidarity.
How Silk Ring Theory works:
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. […]
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
This article helped me process my grief over my father’s illness, and my anger at how I felt some people added onto my burden instead of alleviating it.
The framework also profoundly shaped the way I saw allyship and solidarity, issues I was exploring and pondering during my day job. In December 2014, for example, my colleague Margari Aziza Hill wrote about allyship from an Islamic perspective, exploring the “Islamic concept of wali” as “more than an advocate” and therefore “a trust from Allah“ that forms “the basis of our work in challenging racism […].”
The word “ally” has its issues, as you can learn more about in 2013 pieces by Mia McKenzie and Michyal Denzel Smith here and here. These problems have only worsened in some ways since the 2016 election results. However, since “ally” seems to be the most widely known term for this idea of someone who should be practicing solidarity, I’m going to use it as shorthand for this piece.