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A Beginners Guide to Allyship

What is an ally?

An ally is any person that actively promotes and aspires for the advancement of inclusion through intentional, positive, and conscious efforts that benefit others.

This can include doing things like, lifting others up and advocating for their experiences, understanding that other’s struggles might be different from our own, supporting active change, and most importantly, listening.

What is allyship?

Allyship has a variety of definitions, all of which follow the same principles: A consistent relationship of trust and accountability with marginalized communities and individuals, making efforts to recognize the struggles of those you ally with, and finally, finding an opportunity to grow whilst building relationships with others.

Allies are critical members of all movements for change and progress around the world. Most recently in the Black Lives Matter Movement, allies from outside the Black population play an important role in educating those in their own community.

As an ally, it is important for our words must to always coincide with our actions. This means that even though you are combating racism within your sphere of influence, it is also important to refrain from centering yourself and your own experiences. This also refers back to the power of empathy that was mentioned in our last blog. Allyship requires us to believe underrepresented people’s stories even if we do not share the same narrative.

What is Performative Allyship?

This is when someone from a majority or privileged group professes their support of or solidarity with a marginalized group in a manner that either isn’t helpful or actively harms the marginalized group.

This can be an instance in which someone posts about an issue or cause but does not stand up for the people leading the cause. In a sense, talking the talk without walking the walk. It can also mean challenging others as a means to showcase how much they have done for a cause, how much they care about something, or even how well they know about a certain concept.

Performative allyship goes to “check a box” or saying something like, “I posted about it ‘x’ amount of times, now I can move on.” Social movements and causes never have been and never will be a trend, yet this form of allyship draws attention to the ‘performer’ rather than the people that they aim to support.

If you’re learning, it’s likely that others in your network are doing so as well, and can also benefit from the same resources. Keep sharing, speaking up, and pressuring those around you to do the same.

Allyship is a verb rather than a noun, it is something we are constantly doing. Defining allyship as a noun suggests that there is a checkpoint that we need to reach when advocating for others. When in reality, as allies we should constantly be asking ourselves “how does this benefit those around me?”. Choosing to speak up for the lack of diversity on within brands and business, or making others more aware of things going on outside of my community, or even getting involved in local governments should be the sole objective rather than trying to seek approval from others.

Allyship is a continued investment in supporting others. It also means to hold accountable, not only those around us but also ourselves when mistakes are made. A simple “thanks for holding me accountable so I can do better” or “I hadn’t thought of that, thanks for your perspective”, can provide a much more open approach when asked to shift our thinking.

Although we can look to others to hold us accountable, when it comes to learning new information, we mustn’t rely on marginalized communities to educate us on their struggles. Examples can be things like asking an LGBTQ+ individual to simplify homophobia or a woman to unravel the patriarchy or a Black person to explain white supremacy. These are all examples of demanding emotional labor from these individuals, it asks marginalized members to live through past emotional trauma or pain that they have lived through simply for the sake of your better understanding. There are a plethora of credible resources including biographies, articles, documentaries, and novels, all of which allow readers to gain an understanding of the common struggles and barriers faced by marginalized communities and their members.

Just because you personally may not have experienced biphobia or police brutality, doesn’t mean that these issues don’t exist. Take the time to learn about issues outside of your sphere, have those difficult conversations about the privilege you might have, and acknowledge how you can use that privilege to help others. While it is understandable that you may not fully understand the experiences of the communities you wish to support, it is your job as an ally to acknowledge that their struggles are both valid and important.

I hope that our readers continue to speak out against injustice and social inequity, striving to listen to those around them, adapt their thinking, and eventually become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

— Rachael Bailey, Undergraduate Intern