We Can’t Call Ourselves Allies; We Have to Do The Work

November 21, 2019

The Feminuity Team

People often claim they are an “ally” because they challenge sexist jokes, or attend a Pride parade, or share the latest social justice hashtag trending on Twitter. While these are valuable things to do, using these one-off moments to claim or prove allyship makes these actions about us, not the community we aim to support. “Ally” is not a button or pin that we can wear. It’s not an identity we can claim either.  Allyship is a verb, an ongoing practice, that should be described based on our continual actions. 

  • Instead of saying, “I am an ally,” try saying, “I’m working in solidarity.” 
  • Or more accurately, “I’m working in solidarity with [insert social group] by [insert actions/steps].
  • For example, “I’m currently operating in solidarity with people who are trans* or non-binary by advocating for gender-neutral washrooms.

 

This reframing helps us—as people striving to be allies—describe something that the label “ally” does not; it is undeniably an action. It focuses on what we are doing at the moment and gives examples. It does not give credit for past acts of solidarity, and it does not assume future acts of solidarity. Some other options could include:

  • “I’m using my privilege to help by…,” 
  • “I’m demonstrating my commitment to ending [insert oppressive system] by…,”
  • “I am showing up for [insert marginalized group] in the following ways…” 

 

These examples show allyship is an everyday practice and is never ceasing. It is only when we show up/do the work again/again/again that we may be bestowed the title of "ally" by the groups we seek to support. Working towards active allyship is vital for sustainable, equitable, and inclusive change within the diverse spaces we operate within.


Some Tips on Working in Solidarity

 

1. Understand your privilege.

Intersectionality tells us our individual experiences and identities sit at intersections of multiple systems of oppression, power, and privilege. Although we may experience challenges in our lives, we may also have privileges that make our lives easier. For example, a white, cisgender, gay, man advocating for LGBQ inclusion may experience barriers to gaining respect. Still, their voice may be heard more than a black, lesbian, trans women.

  • Those of us with privilege are often unaware of the perspectives we silence with our voice. Is there an opportunity to support someone else in sharing their views? 
  • Observe spaces you operate in daily. Would someone with a mobility device be able to move around them? Advocate for changing these spaces by speaking to a building manager or the owner of a business.
  • In a movie, are there lots of people who represent you? Reflecting on your privilege means being critical of the things we observe every day. 


2. Google Search is your friend.

When asking a person from a marginalized group to explain things, it asks them to do extra work when they are often already advocating for themselves. There are many resources about diversity, equity, and inclusion available online.

  • Follow five people unlike you on social media. Then, if you learn something, share the post or thread to support their work and educate others. For example, check out accounts by @theguerrillafeminist, @rachel.cargle, @indigenousgoddessgang, @_sambosworth, or @monachalabi to get inspiration. 
  • Use Google Search to find movies and books about topics new (to you) subjects. 
  • Play a podcast by people unlike you during your commute. Check out these podcasts: The Good Ancestor, The Secret Life of Canada, She’s All Fat, Ouch: Disability Talk, and Stuff Mom Never Told You.
  • Attend social justice-related discussions, rallies, or exhibits and listen openly. 

 

3. Speak up, but not over.  

Uplifting marginalized voices can involve retweeting, mentioning their work, featuring them on your platforms, hiring them in positions of authority, consulting with them, and paying them for their time. 

Learning when to step back is also an essential act in solidarity. We could think of this as “standing at the back of the protest.” While we could also do this at a protest, this can be used as a metaphor to remind us to be present and show up, while spotlighting and centralizing the people who have done the work.

 

4. Apologize when you mess up 

Because we’re all learning as we go, that means we’re also going to mess up along the way. When called out, or when realizing we have hurt someone else, apologizing acknowledges harm. A sincere apology involves listening authentically and committing to doing better. For example, “I apologize for [what you did], I’m going to do better, and I recognize that I have work to do. I now understand [insert what you’ve learned]. Thank you for taking the time to explain this to me.”


5. Repeat

Working in solidarity is a never-ending commitment. Doing this work may take some burden off marginalized people to do it themselves.

  • Contact governmental representatives to challenge current policies and processes. 
  • Practice using someone’s pronouns or the correct pronunciation of their name. 
  • Use more inclusive language. For example, instead of saying “you guys” or “hey guys” to refer to a group of people, try using terms such as “everyone,” “all,” “y'all,” or “folks” - words that do not imply gender.  
  • Offer your time to volunteer doing some supportive tasks at events in your community.
  • If you have the means to financially help people and organizations grow: Support marginalized people via PayPal, Patreon, E-Transfer, or other donation mechanisms. Consider folks such as ihartericka, thefatsextherapist, and frizzkidart.