Many people have been horrified, appalled and shocked by recent events in the USA and have wished to underline their support for the Black Lives Matter movement by positioning themselves as an ally. It is not necessary to have a full understanding of the lived experience and what it is means in day to day terms for someone from a disadvantaged group. But it does mean that you are willing to take on the fight for equality for that group as your own.
Being an ally is difficult and sometimes challenging. Many would-be allies fear making mistakes that could result in them being labelled in a particular way (racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, etc) so they struggle to take any action at all. Be brave – take a risk and you will gradually become more confident.
As an ally, you need to take responsibility for your mistakes and be proactive in your own education. It is important to reflect upon your own unconscious and implicit bias and understand the ways in which we are all shaped by a society that is inherently geared towards favouring some groups over others. You need to be able to reflect upon your own experiences and attitudes and develop a high level of self-awareness.
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 own unconscious/implicit biases
- Do your research to learn more about the history of the struggle in which you are participating
- Do some self-reflection to understand and acknowledge how you are part of systems of structural inequality and unfairness
- Do consider ways in which you can make a real contribute towards changing those systems
- Do use your privilege to support and amplify the voices of under-represented people
- Do accept criticism gracefully and gratefully, even if it’s uncomfortable
- Do not have an expectation that marginalised people will educate you – but be open if people want to share their story. Take responsibility for your own education and use the resources around you to learn and answer your questions
- Do not take part in the “Oppression Olympics” (everyone has their story and the objective is to make progress towards the creation of a fairer, more equal society)
- Do not behave as though you know better and/or you are superior
- Do not assume that every member of an under-represented community feels oppressed.
You may have noticed that it’s easier to deal with being corrected about something you didn’t know if you’re open to the opportunity to learn rather than being embarrassed to have been wrong. If you say “Thanks for letting me know”, you will have taken the opportunity to learn with grace and gratitude. If after you say that, you need to take some time to think about the situation, that’s fine, too.
"Boots and Sandals"
(Based on work by Presley Pizzo)
Imagine your privilege is a heavy pair of boots that keeps you from feeling when you’re stepping on someone’s feet or they’re stepping on yours, while disadvantaged people are only wearing sandals. If someone says, “Ouch! You’re stepping on my toes,” how do you react?
- Making it about you: “I can’t believe you think I’m a toe-stepper! I’m a good person!”
- Denial that others’ experiences are different from your own: “I don’t mind when people step on my toes.”
- Changing the conversation: “Some people don’t even have toes, why aren’t we talking about them instead?”
- Refusal to understand the issue: “All toes matter!”
- Tone policing: “I’d move my foot if you asked me more politely.”
- Denial that the problem can be resolved: “Toes getting stepped on is a fact of life. You’ll be better off when you accept that.”
- Victim blaming: “You shouldn’t have been walking around people with boots just wearing sandals!”
In reality, most of us naturally know the right way to react when we step on someone’s toes, and we can use that to help us learn how to react when we commit micro-aggressions.
- Focus on the affected person: “Are you okay?”
- Listen to their response and learn: “How can I do better?”
- Apologise for the impact, even though you didn’t intend it: “I’m sorry that I hurt you!”
- Resolve the issue: Move your foot
- Change the pattern: Be careful where you step in the future – is there any way you could put on a lighter pair of shoes?