What does it mean to be an ally?
To be an ally is an active way of life where you help to bridge-build to ensure equality, inclusion and opportunity of all peoples. Being an ally means that you are working towards creating a socially just world where marginalized communities no longer have to lead excruciating conversations about survival. Allies actively work to end the system which gives them an inherent privilege.
What is intersectionality?
Intersectionality requires looking at social identities and understanding how identities, such as our ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender, sex, (dis)abilities, and socio-economic status, are not isolated, but rather are interrelated. Oppression and marginalization is not confined to one identity at a time, instead they interact and are often compounded creating complex systems of discrimination or oppression.
Race and gender are not operating separately to pay gaps, they are interacting to put racialized women in an even more marginalized and unjust position.
Maclean’s research by Sheila Block and Grace-Edward Galabuzi, who found that “racialized women earned $0.556 for every dollar non-racialized men earned in 2005 . . . Racialized men made $0.779 for every dollar non-racialized men earned. Racialized women earned $0.882 for every dollar that non-racialized women earned.”
Check out this incredible Ted Talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw to learn about intersectionality. Or you can read this article in the Washington Post. Read the Maclean’s article on the gendered and racialized wage gap check out this here.
What is privilege?
Everyday Feminisms defines privilege as the opposite of oppression - “set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group”.
“Society grants privilege to people because of certain aspects of their identity. Aspects of a person’s identity can include race, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, geographical location, ability, and religion, to name a few.”
Some have advocated for a move from allies to accomplices, denoting the need for more learning, action, support, and to shift the focus from the individual as an ally to an accomplice who focuses on dismantling oppressive institutions and systems.
How can I be an ally?
The first step of being an ally is by looking within and figuring out what pieces of us represent marginalization and what pieces of us represent privilege. Look at your identity in terms of your race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education, socio-economic status, health, ableism, etc.
Our identities are complex so we are on a spectrum of privilege and marginalization. The pieces of you that represent marginalization means that you have the right to fight for your people, but also the right to thrive and survive. However, the privileged aspect of your identity is responsible for being an ally as you should be working towards dismantling the systems that you are apart of that oppress marginalized communities.
Once we figure out where we lie on the spectrum, we can work towards being allies. Allies work in different systems through service, self-help, education, advocacy and direct action.
When to intervene and “shut down”
There are both indirect and direct ways to shut down oppressive exchanges and actions.
If you are comfortable intervening directly, your response should initially be calm and assume good intentions. Some people do not realize the significance of their comments or actions, therefore first identify the problem and give the individual the opportunity to learn and modify it themselves. Avoid judgement, name-calling, and labelling, this can make individuals defensive and less likely to accept new information and make changes.
For example in a situation you can try responding directly by:
- Clarifying what was said by saying “I think I hear you saying all ___ are _____. Is that what you mean?” before explaining what is problematic in their actions.
- Asking for more information. If it is a derogatory joke, you can ask why the individual thinks it is funny.
- Finally, explaining the impact of comments, jokes, statements, etc., like the one you heard.
If you are not comfortable addressing the problem directly you can try other approaches, such as:
- Using signals such as a questioning or confused look, changing the subject, or simply leaving the conversation
- You can try repeating the statement without the oppressive/discriminatory language. For example, if you hear someone say “I feel like the low man on the totem pole” you can respond with something like “Did you mean to say that you feel unimportant?”
When expressing to others what it means to be an ally, explain that work needs to be done towards creating a socially just world where marginalized communities have equal opportunities for success, and can feel safe to live and love. Allyship is working towards “shared humanity” where allies are motivated to disrupt oppressive systems and implicit bias by amplifying marginalized voices.