We are living in a time period where politicians doubt the contributions of people of color, where queer people of color have been targeted and killed in their own safe space, where black folks face discrimination from police, and where women and feminine people fear sexual assault daily. It is then no wonder that the call for allies has been loud and clear, coming from every marginalized group to every privileged group.
Though many have heard the call to allyship, many have responded dismally. These responses vary, from the conservative camps who refuse to acknowledge that there is an issue, to the blissfully ignorant #AllLivesMatter activists. However, the more common brand of bad ally has been the one who understands, and yet does nothing outside of their own social media echo chamber.
The first step to being a good ally? You have to want to be a good ally for good reasons. The motivation behind your allyship should not come from a desire to be praised, but instead from an outrage at the sight of suffering. Allyship is not about the self, but instead about the other, and how to fix the society that oppresses the other.
This is the first step, and often it is the hardest step. For many, the mental labor it takes to understand why allies are needed in the first place warrants them to feel a certain entitlement because they have gone what they would deem “above and beyond.” While these allies may be more well-versed than their privileged peers, it’s more important to recognize that marginalized groups have had to live with the reality of their oppression for their whole lives. By shifting a focus to self-following, this small bit of extra effort erases the struggle of not just understanding but living oppression.
Another issue that arises from not understanding this key aspect of allyship is a refusal to accept their own mistakes. Allyship should always be about changing and molding. You should be open to listening to people in marginalized groups without challenging the what they say. Instead of challenging their own lived experiences or asking why they’re “attacking” you after you’ve already decided to “help them” by being an ally, thank them for taking the time to help you get better, and then take the time to think critically about what they’ve said.
But what is probably the most important part of wanting to be an ally (for good reasons) is that there is a desire to create change in the world. Not everyone can change the world in big ways, but everyone can step up and say something when they encounter racism, queerphobia, or any other axis of oppression. The most important thing allies can do is to challenge the beliefs of those surrounding them, especially those who are close to them with very harmful beliefs. The best thing an ally can do is make other people into good allies.
There are obviously more ways to better allyship. But without this primary introspection, those steps won’t matter. Without understanding what an ally should truly be, what should actually motivate them, we cannot be any help to marginalized groups.