TO BE AN ALLY IS TO...
- Take on the struggle as your own.
- Transfer the benefits of your privilege to those who lack it.
- Amplify voices of the oppressed before your own.
- Acknowledge that even though you feel pain, the conversation is not about you.
- Stand up, even when you feel scared.
- Own your mistakes and de-centre yourself.
- Understand that your education is up to you and no one else.
SO YOU WANT TO BE AN ALLY.
Welcome to the Guide to Allyship.
Think of this guide as one of many starting points in your journey to become a better ally. This guide isn’t meant to be comprehensive nor is it perfect. There are people far more versed than I, who have dedicated their life’s work to this sort of education.
In light of recent events and tragedies, I’ve been hearing the word “ally” a lot. Many people want to be an “ally”, and even more people are unable to fulfill the duties allyship requires.
I use the word “ally” loosely because I find it overused and often abused by those who label themselves “allies.” Despite its current misuse, using a different word would only cause confusion. As you read through this guide, be aware that your definition of “ally” may not be the same as the definition I’ll introduce you to.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS GUIDE?
There are many great guides out there, and I acknowledge their existence. What’s different about this guide is that it’s open source (any one can contribute to it) and it doesn’t get into specifics: racism, transphobia, gender discrimination, etc. and that’s by design.
This guide can’t and shouldn’t be everything to you. At some point, you need to take responsibility and further your education. When you’re done with the guide, please find ways to learn more.
Finally, this is a resource to help anyone considering allyship better understand the pros and cons of what being an ally entails. Allies understand their role in collaboration with people whose lives are affected daily by systemic oppression.
Don’t take the responsibility of being an ally lightly.
WHAT THIS GUIDE COVERS:
- Why this was created
- What is an ally?
- Why allies are necessary
- The Work of Allyship: Dos and Don’ts
- How to handle mistakes
- Contribute to this guide
- Support & share this guide
WHY THIS WAS CREATED
In the summer of 2016, someone I considered an ally stood by and watched as I, a Black person, was berated by a racist. To make matters worse, I had a conversation with this person earlier in the day about the power allies can wield in situations of discrimination. But when the time came for them to take action, they were more interested in protecting their comfort.
Upset, I couldn’t understand what happened. Did the conversation we had not get through? What didn’t they step up? Then it dawned on me:
Saying you’re an ally is much easier than actually being an ally. Saying you’re an ally looks good on paper, especially if you’re never questioned about your inaction.
Many self-defined “allies” wear the phrase and ideology like an article of clothing, easily discarded when it’s no longer fashionable to wear.
If only those from underinvested communities could cast away the identities marking them as targets with such ease.
WHAT IS AN ALLY?
I noted before that I used the word “ally” loosely. In fact, I personally no longer use the word. However, I do think it’s a good starting place for those learning to be better allies. I also believe there’s an opportunity to explore a better definition of the word. The best definition of “ally” (that I’ve found) comes from author Roxane Gay in her article for Marie Claire, “On Making Black Lives Matter.” In it, she notes:
Black people do not need allies. We need people to stand up and take on the problems borne of oppression as their own, without remove or distance.
We need people to do this even if they cannot fully understand what it’s like to be oppressed for their race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, or other marker of identity.
We need people to use common sense to figure out how to participate in social justice.
To recap: Being an ally doesn’t necessarily mean you fully understand what it feels like to be oppressed. It means you’re taking on the struggle as your own.
An individual from an underinvested community cannot easily cast away the weight of their identity (or identities) shaped through oppression on a whim. They carry that weight every single day, for better or for worse. An ally understands that this is a weight that they, too, must be willing to carry and never put down.
WHY ALLIES ARE NECESSARY
Anyone has the potential to be an ally. Allies recognize that though they’re not a member of the underinvested and oppressed communities they support, they make a concerted effort to better understand the struggle, every single day.
Because an ally might have more privilege and recognizes said privilege, they are powerful voices alongside oppressed ones.
THE WORK OF ALLYSHIP
Being an ally is hard work.
Many would-be allies fear making mistakes that could have them labelled as “-ist” or “-ic” (racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, etc). But as an ally, you’re also affected by a system of oppression. This means that as an ally, there is much to unlearn and learn—mistakes are expected. You need to own this as fact and should be willing to embrace the daily work of doing better.
As an ally, you need to own your mistakes and be proactive in your education, every day.
If you refuse to acknowledge that your words and actions are inherently shaped and influenced by systemic oppression, you’re setting up yourself to fail.
Lack of self-awareness is not a trait of an ally. You’ll be complicit in the oppression of those you intend to help. If you choose not to understand this, but label yourself an “ally”, you’re essentially a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You’ll find ways to infiltrate vulnerable communities and wield far more power than someone who is outwardly “-ist” or “-ic” because you’re “trusted.”
Just as society will not change overnight, neither will you. Here are some important do’s and don’ts to consider as you learn, grow, and step into the role of an ally.
- Do be open to listening
- Do be aware of your implicit biases
- Do your research to learn more about the history of the struggle in which you are participating
- Do the inner work to figure out a way to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems
- Do the outer work and figure out how to change the oppressive systems
- Do use your privilege to amplify (digitally and in-person) historically suppressed voices
- Do learn how to listen and accept criticism with grace, even if it’s uncomfortable
- Do the work every day to learn how to be a better ally
- Do not expect to be taught or shown. Take it upon yourself to use the tools around you to learn and answer your questions
- Do not participate for the gold medal in the “Oppression Olympics” (you don’t need to compare how your struggle is “just as bad as” a marginalized person’s)
- Do not behave as though you know best
- Do not take credit for the labor of those who are marginalized and did the work before you stepped into the picture
- Do not assume that every member of an underinvested community feels oppressed