Food for Thought – How to be an Ally?

How can you be an ally? Being an ally means being responsible and accountable to yourself first and foremost before using advocacy or activism to correct what you see as “wrong” in the environment around you.

  • An ‘ally’ is not a title nor an identity, it’s a journey. Being an ally isn’t something that you achieve and then put onto your resume. We must turn ourselves into research subjects. It is a constant process of education, reflection and action, that must be integrated into every aspect of your life.
  • Leave your ego at the door. Being an ally means we are willing to be vulnerable, to be corrected and to be challenged.
  • Take actionVital to the identity of an ally is the idea that you must take action when necessary. People with power and privilege will often not listen to a dissenting voice unless it comes from someone with that same power and privilege. This is your opportunity to step in and be an ally.
  • Stand up when needed, but step back without a need to take credit. Sometimes you may not need to step in, and, as an ally, all you need to do is stand back and support those who are fighting their own fight. Physically moving to stand  by someone can be enough to provide support. Other times, you might need to step in because of your privilege but you should not claim credit. Being an ally is not about gaining favor with your colleagues, nor about boasting. It is a selfless act. 
  • Avoid savior complex.  An ally should never turn into a savior. Savior complexes continue the patronizing rhetoric that marginalized people need our help. People living on the peripheries of society are placed there by people with power and privilege, not because they lack some capability. 
  • Break the silence around racism. Conversations about race are uncomfortable, and for this reason race has become a silent issue in the United States. As an ally, you need to break this silence in order to recognize the inequities that exist around you.
  • Never monopolize the emotional energy. Taking the spotlight away from a marginalized person by expressing one’s emotions is a tool of power and privilege. Instead, take this time to reflect on how you feel, while also listening to this person’s story and their emotions.
  • Resist the urge to stay as a victim or categorize others as just victims. As an ally, it is essential to continually check ourselves from staying in our victimhood bubble or leaving others in victimhood boxes. Victimhood makes the individual feel helpless and strips them of agency; however, as an essential step in healing, allow for venting (expressing emotions) but always with a goal of acting or urging and supporting others to act on their own grievances.
  • Don’t indulge in guilt. Guilt is too self-focused; a form of narcissism which prevents us from stepping forward to be with someone who is experiencing discrimination or marginalization. Action driven by guilt ends up being self-serving and therefore must be avoided by an ally. Action must be driven by the desire for social change while upholding social justice as a value.
  • Take the initiative upon yourself to learn. Many times marginalized people are asked to be the teachers while constantly being barraged with acts of discrimination and microaggressions. Many marginalized people have taken to the internet – articles, blogs, videos – to explain their experiences, the forms of racism they encounter and suggest ways to communicate about race. Use these as ways to begin your process of self-education on racism, an important step in the journey of an ally.

Anyone can be ally. Everyone should be an ally.