Spivak’s argument in “Can the Subaltern Speak” is a challenge for allies to recognize their privilege in being heard, and not silence the oppressed in their allyship. Oftentimes, particularly in white activist communities, speak out can be synonymous with speak for. We try to understand foreign struggles by defining them in our own cultural terms. Spivak argues that this type of allyship is harmful. Rather than raising up the voices of the oppressed, the least privileged in a post colonial world, this type of activism further silences them.

A clip of Ashton Kutcher recently went viral. In this clip he passionately begs the US senate to help end child sex trafficking. His cause is noble, and his motivations appear admirably pure. An issue in this example of allyship is Kutcher’s attempt to universalize the issue. He keeps stressing how fatherhood connects him to this cause. He relates the ages of victims of sex slavery to that of his own children, as if that makes it worse—standing alone it would not, perhaps, motivate action. While I am not arguing that his conclusion that child sex slavery is wrong is problematic, I am saying that he addresses the international epidemic only through the American perspective. Though I do not know what we lose with this lens, Spivak’s critique would argue that assuming that no-one of, or closer to, the marginalized population could speak for themselves allows us to write their narrative for them. I doubt any would argue against this industry as an atrocity, however, the specifics of how it effects them, and how that shapes the aid they require, could benefit from a raising up of marginalized voices.


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