With so many platforms firing new perspectives onto our feeds, it can be hard to know how to be an ally today. And while the lingo might look different than it did a few years ago, the good intentions are all the same. From the dos and don'ts to using social media as an ally, we've broken modern allyship down into bite-sized morsels -- with the help of leading diversity and inclusion expert, Risha Grant.
What Exactly Is Allyship?
If you feel lost about what allyship even means today, don't panic. We're here to cut through the noise, and we've asked diversity and inclusion expert Risha Grant for invaluable insights on the subject.
We're not going to bore you with dictionary definitions of allyship. Instead, we've got a working definition straight from the experts. In her internationally acclaimed work, Risha Grant defines allyship as "someone who doesn't belong to one of the marginalized groups but has an interest in helping people in those groups lead a more equal and equitable life."
3 Tips for Being a Better Ally (and 3 Mistakes to Avoid)
Allyship isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. You can be a part of one or more marginalized communities and still be an ally to those you don't belong to. The fact that there's not a solitary profile for being an ally makes it so hard for many people just starting in activism to know what they can do.
Thankfully, there are some basic dos and don'ts that every ally can form their foundation on. As you learn and grow in your allyship, the way you perform as an ally will probably change, too. But these lessons are too good to need a remix.
DO Keep Your Listening Ears On
According to Grant, listening to marginalized groups should be at the core of your allyship. The only way you can learn about the issues at hand and what needs to be done to fix them (as well as how you fit into that scenario) is by listening to the people it's happening to. We know it's hard to put down that main character energy, but being an ally means really opening our ears to experiences that may be completely different to our own.
DON'T Ask Others to Relive Their Trauma
As an ally, you should never ask someone to relive their trauma or pain caused by oppressive systems of power. That's not to say someone might not ever want to share those experiences with you. But it needs to be their choice for when and if they delve into them.
DO Validate Their Experiences
Validating marginalized people's experiences is another fundamental aspect of being an ally. "The worst thing you can say is, 'are you sure 'they' meant it like that?' or 'could you have misinterpreted that situation?'"explains Risha Grant.
Let's take a brief second to compare it to a more juvenile, but familiar, example. Let's say your friends always raved about your elementary school teacher. They got good grades, were called on in class, and never got detention. But that teacher treated you differently; you weren't graded fairly, were unduly disciplined, and never given a chance to shine. In that moment, all you'd want is for your friends to recognize that something was going on there, and you were being treated unfairly.
So, when faced with someone sharing their experiences with you, take a beat, thank them for sharing, and try saying something like what Grant suggests, "I'm so sorry that happened to you. Is there anything that I can do to make the situation better?"
DON'T Assume You Know What People Need
As a newbie ally, you may have the best intentions in the world, but sometimes that eagerness to have your perspective heard can distract from what's really needed. It's important to remember that you don't know what the people affected by the oppressive systems of power need. They know what they need, and so long as you keep those listening ears open, they'll usually be happy to tell you.
As you start advocating for marginalized groups, make sure to put them and their stories in the spotlight and let them guide you towards things you can do help.
DO Use Your Privilege and Platforms to Raise Awareness
An important part of being an ally is recognizing your privilege and using it to help achieve equity and equality for people who have less privilege than you. So, if you've got a large following on social media, let BIPOC people, queer, disabled folks, and more do a few takeovers. If you've got bureaucratic connections, try to bridge the gap between them and the organizations you're a part of.
Saying you're an ally is all well and good, but marginalized people aren't helped by performative activism (supporting a cause to gain attention or for personal gain). They need you and other allies to act.
DON'T Avoid Educating Yourself on Marginalized Issues
It's not marginalized people's jobs to educate you on issues that are well published and easily accessible. There are so many quick breakdowns of almost every nuanced social dilemma or experience you can think of. So, read the recommended books, watch the documentaries, attend the speeches and gatherings. If you really want to be an ally, it's your job to do a little bit of the leg work.
If you're just getting started in allyship work and need to delve deeper in understanding the issues at play, here are a handful of texts you can turn to:
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michele Alexander
- Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarashinha
- Transgender History by Susan Stryker
- Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism by Adrian Brooks
- Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks
How Can We Be an Ally on Social Media?
Social media can at times be hotbed of bad, problematic takes, and it can increasingly feel like people are just shouting into the void. But there are ways allyship and social media can intersect.
According to Grant, our circles of influence on social media can create an important feedback loop. You can expose yourself to people's stories from around the world you'd usually never get to hear. And then you "can take some of these views that resonate and educate others in [your] circle of influence."
By arming yourself with these perspectives, you're better equipped to combat people in your circle of influence spouting hateful language, and as Grant attests, "They may [be more likely to] listen because they trust you."
Want to Learn More? Check Out These Resources
We asked Risha Grant for a few of her favorite resources for new allies to engage with, and she suggested:
- The Allyship is a Verb Podcast
- Allies and Advocates: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Culture by Amber Cabral
And as a diversity and inclusion expert herself, Risha Grant has numerous resources on her website, Facebook, and Instagram for you to explore. Also be sure to check out her new book, That's BS! How Bias Synapse Disrupts Inclusive Cultures and the Power to Attract Diverse Markets, which you can buy on her website, Amazon, or anywhere else books are sold.
Also be on the lookout for Risha's latest book, Be Better Than Your BS, that's filled with powerful information on authentically connecting with others in the workplace.
Allyship Isn't About You
It's in our individualistic nature to want to be at the center of the narrative. But allyship relies on us taking a backseat and letting other people grab the mic. That doesn't mean your support isn't important to achieving lasting change! Everyone can do their part to making our world a more equal, equitable, and safe place to live, and being an ally is just one of those ways.