Tuesday, February 20, 2018

So you want to be an ally

This post emerged from my observations and experiences, especially over the past year and in response to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements. This is by no means an authoritative or complete guide to allyship - that would be a pretty large ego-driven statement - but it is something that's been bouncing around my head and I thought I would start to lay it down in words.

I welcome comments and suggestions.

1. Examine and understand your motivations

You don't get cookies or gold stars or a cool t-shirt for performing the role of ally. It's not something you can cross off your bucket list, like "Visit Iceland" or "Climb Mt. Everest."

Being an ally is a position or identity you stake out in your life. An avocation, if you will. More like being an amateur painter or musician. And as such, it means committing to a lifetime of practice and learning.

And if your motivation for being an ally is "so people think I'm a good person", stop. Just stop. You are making this all about you and your ego.

2. You must be willing to risk your position

Congratulations - you have come to a point that many do not: you recognize that you have benefited from society's inherent biases. That while you may have worked hard for what you have, you started out at a more privileged position or easier difficulty level. And you want to do something about it. That's great. A level playing field seems like the right thing to fight for.

There is no fight without risk.
There is no change without loss.

You may lose your standing in your family, your place of worship, your profession, your neighborhood.

If you do your work well, you may see yourself be passed over for promotion or opportunity in favor of someone in a less privileged position. And that may hurt, because deep down, whatever our politics or outward actions, we believe we earn what we have achieved.

Understand that in a more equitable world, you may not always get the winning lottery ticket. If you've always gotten them in the past, that will feel like a loss, instead of a correction to a rigged game.

3. Amplify, don't shout over

The main jobs of an ally are to listen, educate, and amplify.

Listen: make sure you really understand what the people you wish to ally with want. And this may be more difficult than you think. There is rarely complete consensus in any group and just as you cannot speak for all white people, you cannot think that anyone speaks for all people of color, or all women, or all people in the LGBTQ communities, or all Muslims, or, or, or. And that's not even acknowledging that individuals can and do belong to more than one marginalized group.

Educate: Educate yourself and your fellow folks in privileged positions. Read foundational source texts from folks in marginalized groups. For all that is good and pure in the world, DO NOT MAKE THOSE YOU WISH TO ALLY WITH do the emotional labor of educating you.

Amplify: Here's an example: Imagine you are an actor. Spend time actively promoting movies with actors from marginalized groups. Talk them up on social media. When someone praises your role in a specific show, thank them and recommend something from a group you wish to be an ally with. Same for artists, musicians, writers, etc. Use your platform to boost voices that wouldn't otherwise be heard.

Frequent shops owned by people from marginalized groups. Use the power of your economic privilege to support them.

Signal boost; don't obliterate with your voice. That's a callback to point #1: If you are talking OVER marginalized voices in your effort to be an ally, you aren't. That's ego. Examine your motivations.


I wrote this post as much as a reminder for myself as well as for my fellow white folks, both allies and potential allies. I know this is not a complete list and if I have make any errors or omissions, I apologize and will edit as needed. 

Know that this is hard work.
Know that you will make mistakes.
This is okay; learn from your mistakes.
No change happens easily.
Change can happen.
It must.


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1 comment:

  1. Well said, especially this point "The main jobs of an ally are to listen, educate, and amplify." Listening, and over a long period of time, is so important. I read in a discussion group for writers on Facebook a recommendation that a person wishing to write a character from a particular demographic or group should read 100 books by people from that group. I don't think I've ever done that to that extent, but it really puts the emphasis on listening to what the people you wish to understand better are saying.