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SIUE Advisory Board: How to Be An Ally

The Work of Allyship

Being an ally is hard work. Many of those who want to be allies are scared of making missteps that get them labeled as “-ist” or “-ic” (racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, etc). As an ally, you too are affected by a system of oppression. This means that as an ally, there is much to unlearn and learn—mistakes are expected.

As an ally, you’ll need to be willing to own your mistakes and be proactive in your education.

If you decide to become an ally, but refuse to acknowledge that your words and actions are laced with oppression, you’re setting up yourself to fail. You will be complicit in the oppression of those you purport to help. You are not truly an ally. Know that if you choose not to heed this, you wield far more power than someone who is outwardly “-ist” or “-ic” because you are, essentially, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Just as society will not change overnight, neither will you.

Guide to Allyship by @amelielamont

Why Are Allies Essential?

Anyone has the potential to be an ally. Allies recognize that though they’re not a member of the underinvested and oppressed communities they support, they make a concerted effort to better understand the struggle, every single day.

Because an ally might have more privilege and recognizes said privilege, they are powerful voices alongside oppressed ones.

Fours Steps in Being an Ally

Step 1

To start, create your own identity map. List your identity group memberships, which may include gender, ethnicity, race, familial roles, professional roles and religious affiliations. Keep in mind that these identity group memberships are complex and should not be considered in a strictly binary fashion (e.g., black or white, male or female, gay or straight). Thinking of identity as either/or is limiting and can be harmful to individuals whose identities fall between or outside of these binaries.

Step 3

Now that you have created your own identity map, have your students map their identities. Encourage them to be as descriptive and nonbinary as possible. For example, you might say, “Think about the identity groups you belong to. Groups can include nationality, ability, race, gender, sexual orientation or other identifiers. Remember that people are complex and unique. Someone who is gender nonconforming or multiracial, for example, may fall in between or completely outside of those categories.” After they map out their group memberships, ask students to identify which characteristics are most fundamental to who they are.

Step 2

Consider each identity group you are a part of and ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I experienced privilege because of this group membership? Have I been disadvantaged because of this group membership? Note: For some group memberships, you can experience both privilege and disadvantage.
  • Which of these memberships are visible, and which are invisible?
  • Which of these memberships are most fundamental to who I am?

Step 4

Consider your own identity as well as your students’ identities. Ask yourself:

  • Are my students privileged or disadvantaged because of their group memberships? Or both?
  • Am I acknowledging both the visible and invisible group memberships of my students?
  • Am I valuing the social groups my students value or just the ones that are important to me? 

Cited from Learning for Justice