How To Be an Ally

The Women’s March on Washington and all the Sister Marches were awesome; I was thrilled to see so many of my friends and loved ones making sure their voices were heard. However, there’s a lot more work to be done.

First and foremost, we need to be allies to each other. Anyone with any form of privilege needs to be an ally to anyone who is without that privilege.

The dark secret of women’s suffrage is that white women climbed over black women and attempted to disenfranchise black men in order to gain their own voting rights. A fact I didn’t learn until a few days before the marches. I didn’t know it because I’m a white woman who grew up in a white neighborhood and attended a predominantly white school in a predominantly white city in a very white state.

From my position of immense privilege, it’s my responsibility to become an ally. Below are my top ten ways to be an ally. It’s far from an exhaustive list, and I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but it’s a place to start.

1. Educate yourself about privilege.

White Privilege may be the hot-button topic, but people can also have privilege in gender, class, wealth, education, access to services (including the internet), and the appearance of any of these. To be allies, we must acknowledge what we have that others don’t.

2. Listen actively.

As humans, we tend to be self-centered; it’s a coping mechanism for some and survival for others. As allies, it’s imperative that we’re hearing what people are saying, instead of just waiting for them to finish before talking ourselves. It can be challenging, especially when we think our insights are valuable. While they can be helpful, they’re not always necessary. Nothing is more frustrating for a person who is clamoring to be heard than, “I know exactly what you mean, this one time, in college [insert similar but off-topic story here].”

3. Recognize that people have different experiences.

Think about the people you know who identify the same ways you do. Most of my friends are 30-something, cis-het, educated, white women. We don’t all like the same food, think the same way, or want the same things from life. It’s not a hard stretch to understand that people who DON’T identify the same way as you may have drastically different experiences. At a bare minimum, anyone who is white needs to understand that persons of color have been treated differently by people their entire lives, simply because their skin has higher melanin.

4. Think before you respond.

In the day and age of Twitter, Facebook, and the immediacy of comments sections, it’s hard to hold back, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do. Especially in the comments of a post from a person of color trying to address white feminism. Before you comment, use the “T.H.I.N.K. Method.”

Is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, or Kind? If not, maybe it’s not worth saying.

5. Remove the phrase “Not All ____” from your vocabulary.

I understand the desire to stand up for your race, gender, religion, etc, but it doesn’t make you look good. While it’s true that not all men are rapists, if a woman has been raped by the majority of men in her life (yes, it does happen), then telling her “not all men are rapists” does not make you a good ally. She probably understands that there are men out there who don’t feel the need to exert power over women, but discounting her experience doesn’t help.

6. Remember opinions aren’t greater than facts.

Nothing makes me angrier than people presented with statistics and evidence of disenfranchised voters, oppressed or suppressed people, class warfare, racism, or sexism, who respond with “well, I haven’t seen that” or “I don’t believe that’s true.” While we don’t have to take statistics and research at face value, and we should absolutely verify information before sharing it, discounting it because we’re unfamiliar with the information is unacceptable.

7. Research the movements. 

Go to the sources. Find out from the organizers and founders what they want to accomplish and why.

8. Examine representation.

Pay attention to movies and TV. Do the shows you love have characters of color? Are they gay? Female? Transgender? Gender-queer? Non-Evangelical? Differently-abled? How to the writers/directors/actors present characters who are “different”? Is homosexuality, bisexuality, or asexuality treated as humorous? Do the characters make racial “jokes”?  Are people with disabilities treated as “broken” or “less”? This informs how the world sees people who identify in those ways.

9. Amplify others’ voices.

Yes, it’s important that people with privilege speak up for those without privilege, but it’s more important to make sure people without privilege are heard. Find blogs, essays, and books written by people who are different from you. Read them. Share them. Raise their voices. While we may feel better by joining the chorus, it’s often more valuable to give someone else the microphone.

10. Hold yourself accountable.

So many times, I’ve seen someone who claims to be an ally respond to a woman of color with, “Well, why don’t you explain it to me.” No. If you’re going to be an ally, you’re responsible for learning, understanding, and reaching out. It’s not the job of those without privilege to make you be an ally.

 

Got another way to be an ally or advocate? Sound off below!

 

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