You are Not the Ally You Think You Are

NOT SO FAST, Self-Proclaimed “Ally”

I’ve always been a big college football fan.  Living in the Midwest and going to Ohio State (or THE Ohio State University), I guess I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.  Despite the obvious needs for more diversity in the sport and more diverse representation in leadership, one of my favorite quotes that Lee Corso, ESPN commentator, uses is “not so fast.”  

It reminds me of people that want to be allies but show up in problematic ways.  They want to be helpful, but what they say and do is not helpful.  We are all allies in training.  While there is no need to show up perfect in the diversity and inclusion conversation, it is important to show up intentionally.

Put Away the Rescue Cape

Allyship is not a rescue mission.  It does not require you to save the day for someone.  Hang up the rescue cape, and simply show up to listen and learn.  There’s no way you can understand the lived experience of somebody different than you.  If you have white skin, you don’t know what it’s like to be Black or Brown.  If you’re a man you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.  If you’re straight or cisgender you have no idea what it’s like to be in the LGBTQ+ Community.  Instead of wanting to save people from their problems, show up bravely and vulnerably without solutions, yet with empathy and grace. 

This is especially problematic with conversations and race.   Historically, White people have shown up inconsistently and often too late to the conversation about racial Justice.  And when they do show up, they often offer their own white privileged solutions and advice rather than meeting Black and Brown people where they’re at.  This is also known as white saviorism.  Do not be the savior, be the ally.

Signal You Want to Be an Ally

How do you let people know you want to be an ally?  You can’t self proclaim to be an ally.  It is often in the eye of the beholder.  Once you are recognized as an ally, that’s the real affirmation.  I call this putting up the bat signal much like the superhero Batman does when he’s going out on a rescue mission. Although you’re not rescuing like Batman, you’re signaling everyday with your actions if you’re inclusive. 

One such way to do this is to add your pronouns to your email signature and social media handles.  Even if it you think it’s quite obvious what your gender identity is, this signals to others that gender non-binary people or those in the LGBTQ+ community don’t have to be the only ones to self-identify their gender.  I made this small change to my signature a few years ago and was shocked when a mother of my daughter’s friend let me know that her son was gay and that she felt comfortable talking to me about it.  I put out the signal and she picked up on that and we had a really great conversation as a result. 

Speak With, Not For

One of the most powerful things you can do as an ally is to amplify the voices of others.  Whether that means sharing social posts of people different than you, reading books by people different than you or supporting businesses run by people different than you.  Your everyday actions matter.  

Amplification is a powerful ally strategy. It does not mean, however, that you speak for someone else, rather you amplify what they already said and redirect the conversation so that they’re heard.  Women and people of color are far more likely to be interrupted, have an idea taken credit for by someone else, or to not even be included in the conversation.  This is a chance to be an ally.  Ask why they weren’t invited, redirect the conversation back to them giving them credit for their idea or interrupt the interrupter and get the conversation back to the person you want to be an ally for.

How could you signal to others you want to be an ally?  Your everyday actions matter.  Choose to amplify the voices of others and put away the rescue cape.  You will be a better ally for it.

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