The Trump administration has been in power for just over two months. Many people are fearful that the social advantages won in recent times will be rolled back. Recently, the administration took gender identity and sexual orientation off of the 2020 census. The cause for concern for many people in our country and the future of our environment is justified.
Because of how fraught these times are, it’s vital for allies to firm up their allyship skills.
Allyship is a term loaded with concern and mistrust among marginalized people. Most recognize that partnerships are needed to create and sustain social change. However, many allies behave in ways that undermine the progress and humanity of those with whom they claim to stand.
Let’s make sure that’s not you. Here are some tips that you can use to help you become a better ally.
1. Interrogate Your Own Views
It’s great that you realize that racism is wrong, that being queer isn’t a sin, and that sexism is a no-no. What often happens is that folks stay there, and they assume that having a revelation about bigotry renders them harmless. Even after we wake up to the negative ways of the world, we still have ideas and standings that could work to the detriment of others.
Because we all are shaped by a dominant culture that manufactures ill feelings toward certain groups, we all have some work to do to untangle our problematic views. That work is continuousness, and will likely last as long as we live.
Be sure to check yourself and receive criticism from others about your views and stances. Some people may give that advice kindly; others have to deliver the message with a rougher edge. Still, it is important to absorb what’s being said, especially if your goal is to help. Maybe you have the best of intentions, but it’s the actual result of your actions that matter. We’ll never be perfect, but we can consistently progress. The internet is filled with resources you can use to continue your education on topics and circumstances that you don’t know about. The more you know—and put into practice—the better your allyship will be.
2. Use Your Privilege On the Behalf of Others
During these times, it is important to interrogate and challenge the spaces where we find ourselves with more privilege and access. There is a need for direct challenge to people and institutions which still operate in ways that harm others. Those who call themselves allies need to use their social capital to advance progress in ways that others can’t.
For example, the next time your pastor says something harmful about LGBTQ people, schedule an appointment to speak to them about it. If one of your friends has negative views about those living in poverty, inform them. If a loved one advocates for policies that would work to marginalize people, challenge them. Of course, use wisdom in how you approach these situations. Still, it is vital for allies to put more skin in the game than likes and retweets. It can’t be the sole responsibility of marginalized people to put themselves in harm’s way to advance these causes.
This is where allies come in. You have access. Use it.
3. Know When to Step Back
Just as it’s important to know when to stand up for those who don’t share the same level of access, it is also important to know when to step back. As an ally, your role is to assist, not assume positions in the forefront. Unfortunately, allies often get in the way of the people they are advocating for.
Marginalized people have created countless strategies to advocate for their own goals. They are not voiceless; they don’t need someone to speak for them.
Make sure that you enter spaces with mostly marginalized people with respect and humility. Leave any savior complex at the door. They don’t need you to save them; your allyship isn’t charity. Learn about the best ways you can assist and then move out of the way.
4. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
One of the best ways to assist marginalized people is to give them money. Donate to their causes, of course, but also look for other ways to move your coins towards them. Do you need your car fixed? Consider going to the black-owned mechanic up the street instead of Jiffy Lube. Book a woman to be your photographer the next time you need head shots. Hire a trans person of color the next time you need your document edited. This also connects to the previous suggestions. Use your access to get marginalized people into the door, speak up for them, step back and let them do their work—then make sure they get paid for it.
It’s true that there needs to be extensive policy and political gains to protect the most vulnerable among us. It is also true that many of these folks are struggling to make ends meet. Since these groups tend to have fewer resources, they may not be able to market themselves as widely as others. Sending money their way for services that you need also helps to keep people afloat while we win the bigger scale battles that are to come.
These tips can help anyone who is trying to become a better ally.
We need more people who step up in helpful, direct ways. We’ll never be perfect, and honestly, perfection is not the request. It’s the willingness to be teachable and position yourself in the best possible way to affect positive change. We all can't do everything, but if more of us do something targeted, we can see a better future.
Photo by Pilar Timpane