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SIUE Advisory Board: Terminology

Terminology: Definitions


An accomplice is someone who supports the target of oppression when they are going out on a limb.  The accomplice focuses more on dismantling the structures that oppress that individual or group and such work will be directed by the stakeholders in the marginalized group.

(Ally or Accomplice? The Language of Activism, Learning for Justice, June 5, 2017)


An advocate is a person who publicly supports a change or policy.  This individual utilizes their privilege to engage in controversial situations on behalf of marginalized people and groups who cannot afford to do so in order to make social and political change. The advocate can be either an insider or an outsider who solicits others to join the cause is devoted to raising awareness.

(Allies, Advocates, and Accomplices Are Critical to Diversity and Inclusion, ACEP, October, 2019)


Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways.  (From OpenSource Leadership Strategies, Racial Equity Tools Glossary)

Allyship is a process, and everyone has more to learn. Allyship involves a lot of listening. Sometimes, people say “doing ally work” or “acting in solidarity with” to reference the fact that “ally” is not an identity, it is an ongoing and lifelong process that involves a lot of work.

A white ally acknowledges the limits of her/his/their knowledge about other people’s experiences but doesn’t use that as a reason not to think and/or act. A white ally does not remain silent but confronts racism as it comes up daily, but also seeks to deconstruct it institutionally and live in a way that challenges systemic oppression, at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression. Being a white ally entails building relationships with both people of color, and also with white people in order to challenge them in their thinking about race. White allies don’t have it all figured out, but are deeply committed to non-complacency. (From Dismantle Collective)

Therefore, an ally can be a person who stands with or advocates for individuals and groups other than their own.



It is a practice of unlearning and relearning as well as a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability within marginalized individuals and groups. (PeernetBC

  • Allyship is not an identity, it is self-assigned. 
  •  Begins when a person of privilege seeks to support a marginalize individual or group.



Refers to the qualities, characteristics or beliefs that make a person who they are.

Optical Allyship

Defined as one that "only serves at the surface level to platform the 'ally.'" "It makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress

Own Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living and Crowning the Queen

Performative Allyship

Performative Allyship is defined as allyship that is carried out to increase one's social capital instead of true devotion to the cause. Though this can take many forms, a common instance of performative allyship is showing public support for the cause on social media, merely to signal one's own virtuous moral compass or otherwise, without taking the effort to enact real action offline or in private.


Positionality is the place from which you view the world. The concept grew out of reflexive anthropology and sociology in the 1980s, and is a way of describing one’s social position in order to understand:

  • Power relations
  • How one’s own subjectivity affects how one interprets and observes experiences.


A special benefit or advantage that may be earned or unearned.

Note: A person may or may not be aware that they are benefiting from privilege!

Social Justice Allies

Members of dominant social groups* who are working to end systems of oppression that give them greater privilege and power based on social group membership.

*Dominant social groups can change depending on context.

Broido, E.M. (2000). The development of social allies during college: A phenomenological investigation. Journal of College Student Development, 41, 3-17.



Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group. It typically refers to shared political interests, but not always.