You want to be an active ally? Here’s how.
Well-intentioned people have been looking for ways to help those who are feeling the weight of racism, islamophobia, misogyny, and other oppressions.
Perhaps you’ve read my essay or heard my interview about performative allyship and the issues with wearing safety pins without doing the work that marginalized people need privileged folks to do.
Well-intentioned people have been looking for ways to help those who are feeling the weight of racism, islamophobia, misogyny, and other oppressions which were amplified during the presidential campaign and after Donald Trump’s win. I have always been actively aware of how both sexism and racism affect me and those I care about; I have no choice but to be even more vigilant during this next presidency. While activists and social workers attempt to improve the lives of those with less privilege, we need people with more social privilege to actively stand against hatred and dismantle it within their own lives.
The word “ally” has been tossed around a lot and diluted somewhat because not enough people are giving enough thought to what it means to actually be an ally. So here are some guidelines for how to be an ally to those of us who are working against multiple oppressions:
The most important thing you can do is to listen to marginalized folks when they talk about their experiences. We’re not looking for advice; we don’t need your two cents. We’ve been handling the complexities of oppression for our whole lives. We need you to listen and learn from us quietly.
Dismantle your privileges. Don’t make your feelings more important than the experiences and voices of marginalized people. How you feel about their perspective is not as relevant as you may want it to be. Western societies prioritize white, cisgender, heterosexual perspectives, so it’s important to learn that expecting marginalized folks to cater to your perspective and feelings is violent because it is an extension of gaslighting.
Use your privilege to confront those in your social circles. All that listening you’ve been doing has helped you become better equipped to handle these situations. Confront bigotry in the workplace, and with your friends, family, and acquaintances. Your privilege is most powerful when talking to your peers.
Help create a safe place for marginalized people within the communities you are a part of. Help establish those spaces by not letting others talk over them. Become accustomed to the fact that marginalized people feel more comfortable around those who are going through those experiences. Black-only or LGBTQIA-only spaces on college campuses, non-profits, or events focusing on our experiences are not exclusionary; they are carved out because the rest of the world caters to various privileges, including whiteness and heterosexuality.
Help out at your local community centers or grassroots organizations in any way that you can. Donating food, clothes, money, paper goods, feminine hygiene products, winter coats, sleeping bags, or resources related to you job (pro-bono work) can be essential.
If you are seeking advice from marginalized people, pay them for their advice. Many of them are struggling to make ends meet, so if you do want them to educate you on topics you are unfamiliar with, offering to pay them for their expertise is a great way to be an ally and learning how to be one.
If you witness harassment or violence, please try to intervene by focusing on the person being harassed. Ask them if they are ok, start a small conversation, let them know you are there. Safety pins are nice, but intervening without being sought out is actually more useful. People who are being harassed aren’t looking for safety pins, they’re just trying to get out of the situation without getting hurt. This may seem counterintuitive, but do not call the police. Not everyone is safe around them. Police forces are not here to protect marginalized communities. Get used to that.
Allyship is different for each community, but these are basic guidelines and ideas. There are great resources that can expand on these ideas. The Internet is your friend in this case, so look up local organizations that can help different communities and people. Allyship is not one size fits all.
To my fellow LGBTQIA folks, people of color, indigenous folks, immigrants, differently abled people, and Muslim friends and family, please feel free to add ways in which allies can help in the comments below. I can add them to this essay as a resource.
Lara Witt was featured in the Nov. 19 edition of “The Remix with Dr. James Peterson.”
A previous version of this essay was published on Medium.com.
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