How to be an Active Ally

The do’s and don’ts of allyship

In times of racial social change, people do not want to be left behind.  They want to play a role in social change.  Many well-intentioned allies – those that want to help and support those that are different than themselves – are stepping into diversity and inclusion conversations without the education needed to understand how to be most helpful.

The danger of trying to help when you do not understand how to help is the trap of performative allyship.

Performative activism is “a pejorative term referring to activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause.”

This has happened in response to the droves of white people that have recently awoken to the cause of anti-racism.  Great intentions are not always followed by great behavior.  Perceived often as being the “white savior” or “white knight,” this behavior seems to elevate white people’s egos and reputations while hurting the group already marginalized.

Allies do not take up the space of those that are marginalized.  They make space for those that are marginalized.  They use their power and privilege to help others that have less access to the powers and privileges that they have been given.

Allies amplify the voices of others rather than being the voice of others.  They do hard things.  They model inclusive behavior while also watching out for pitfalls.

The do’s

Empathy.  Listen to learn.  Seek to understand vs. to be understood.  Do not pretend to know what the issues are.  Say “I am so glad you shared that with me” or “That sounds hard, I empathize.”

Questions.  Be curious.  Keep questions open-ended with powerful question words like “what” or “how.”  Limit question words like “do,” “could,” “should,” which test assumptions and often get one word yes or no answers.

Perspective taking.  Rather than test your own theories or ideas, try on the perspectives of others marginalized.  Ask questions you do not already know the answers to and pause and wait for the thoughtful new perspective to be shared.

Candid conversations.  Rather than sitting on the sidelines, allies do the hard work.  They engage in tough conversations about race and openly support people of color all the time, not just when it is cool to be an ally.  They talk about it with their communities and regulary participate in meaningful dialogues about race.

Raise awareness through sustained action.  Once you have learned more about the complexiites of race and listened with empathy, perspective taking, and asking questions, allies spread their knowledge to others and help them get on their ally journeys.  It is not enough to know, the knowledge needs to be shared.  Allies share books, podcasts, and do not tolerate racist behavior of others.

The don’ts

Judgement.  Pause the instinct to judge others.  By judging others unfairly, you are limiting your own growth and the growth of others.  Be open the perspectives of people of color and honor what they are sharing with you.  Their lived experiences are likely different than yours.

Blame the victim.  Asking “why were you there?” or “why didn’t you do something about it?” when someone shares something hard with you is unfair.  They are trusting with personal information.  Be there for them and listen.

Shut down.  When things get hard, and they will if you are being a true ally, you cannot walk away when push comes to shove.  Stay in it for the long-run.  No pain, no gain.

Get emotional.  Being emotional about the issues makes it about you.  Keep the attention on the marginalized group.  Use emotion to fuel your passion without making it personally about your journey as an ally.

Self-proclaim.  Allyship is in the eye of the beholder.  You cannot claim to be one, you are recognized as one by those that are marginalized.  It is an honor and privilege to be an ally for others.  Real allies do not do it for the glory, they do it because it is the right thing to do.

Real allyship requires activity.  Not sitting on the sidelines, not waiting for someone to ask you to join. Active allies do it afraid.  They are comfortable being uncomfortable.  They lean in and help when no one is watching.

How will you lead like an ally?

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