The past months I’ve had the opportunity to join a theater research project mainly focusing on discrimination and belonging. This provided all the participants, including myself, with the chance to get to know each other in a very special and interesting way. Difficult topics were discussed and often expressed or acted out through theater. However, the most interesting thing that I learnt wasn’t an acting skill or how to get out of my comfort zone (which were also very valuable), it was learning about actively standing by people and being taught what it means to be a so-called ally. Something many people want to be. But before you decide to become a ‘white knight’, let’s explore what it entails. It would be a shame if you were missing out on the essentials, wouldn’t it?
Being white inherently comes with things that many don’t like to admit. There is privilege and there is the massive lack of skill that is required to appropriately deal with this. The ‘’white fragility’’ people experience when they hear something they don’t like, for example: ‘’What you just said is racist’’, is sadly common. This doesn’t mean that you have bad intentions, but is does show that you’re lacking something which a social justice ally shouldn’t. In order to be that ally you do want to see in the world, there are several things you should do, and they are very feasible.
- Do not become an ally to win points.
When a (self-proclaimed) ally is joining in to win points, he or she isn’t in it to fully work towards the goal since a part of the goal is focused on the person itself, who was never oppressed to begin with (Indigenous Action Media, 2014). If you, for example, feel like you should post a picture showing your solidarity to African children – who you just low-key bribed with candy – make sure you do it for the right reasons. Being an ally is not about you, it’s about the other person who is oppressed and a situation of oppression should not, yet again, become your stage; colonization already provided white people with that for over a century. Reclaiming that stage for vain reasons will prevent you from being ally because this spotlight isn’t supposed to be put on you (McKenzie, 2013).
- Educate yourself about different identities and experiences.
Since the resistance focuses on the experience of oppression, it’s important to understand that you as a white counterpart can never truly understand what it’s like to be oppressed. This is for obvious reasons, yet there are still many people who claim to understand what it’s like because they’ve experienced a similar situation or because they claim to have the ability to imagine it. It is; however, often forgotten that one situation is completely different from repetitive and institutional discrimination and how that affects one’s experience. Remember that people of color are dealt a whole different set of cards to play with.
So, what you can do is read as much as you possibly can and make sure you talk with and honestly listen(!) to people who are willing to share their experiences. Education is the key to understanding and it will also help you become capable in correctly helping in the fight against social injustice (What does it mean to be an ally?, n.d.).
- Challenge your own discomfort and ‘sit with it’.
The theater research project I mentioned before was one of those opportunities to sit with discomfort. Listening to others’ experiences and how they have been hurt by institutions or society as a whole can at times be difficult. You might feel bad about it because you know it were your ancestors who may have participated in those practices and your motherland that isn’t treating them right. These kind of situations can be challenging and trigger white fragility – a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves – which makes you feel like making excuses, explaining and a lot of talking (DiAngelo, 2011). Because no, ‘’I have nothing to do with it, I wasn’t even alive back then!’’
In order to be an ally you should; however, not fight it but merely listen. And when you are criticized or given feedback on your not-so-woke behavior, do something with it. Like explained in point 2, an ally should be willing to learn and be educated, so also learn from your mistakes. Use those situations adequately and you might just become enlightened.
- Take action to create interpersonal, societal and institutional change.
A common mistake of ‘’allies’’ is to treat ‘ally’ as a noun rather than the verb it should be. Because when it’s regarded as a verb, it implies action and action is what is necessary. Otherwise you are just claiming a label and sit with the comfort of it whereas the aim is to sit, or rather work, with the discomfort of it. True solidarity can only be shown through action and a willingness to make sacrifices for it. Not making sacrifices for the cause will only prove that you are not ready to get rid of your privilege, you probably love it too much (Black Girl Dangerous, 2015). So, in order to create the interpersonal, societal and institutional change, make sure that the things you say and do are beneficial to the oppressed and the cause. Despite the fact that you would never lead the movement, you can definitely help out with creating the desired change. You are after all part of interpersonal relationships, society and perhaps an institution you work or could boycott. But don’t ever just pretend and take the nametag, because after all actions speak louder than words.
Ghandi said that ‘’if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.’’ It implies changing ourselves and our behavior in order to change the world we live in. Therefore, if you want to see certain change in the world, make sure you contribute to it. You are capable of controlling and changing that part of you and on whom you allow the spotlight to be. So tell me, dear reader, having read these four pointers, do you still think you could be an ally? Also if it requires work and effort? I certainly hope you do because together we can achieve more.
Ally isn’t a noun. It’s a verb.
Black Girl Dangerous. (2015, November 4). How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’. Retrieved from http://www.blackgirldangerous.com/2015/11/ally-theater/
DiAngelo, R. (2011). White Fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3 (3) (2011) pp 54-70.
Indigenous Action Media. (2014, May 4). Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex. Retrieved from http://www.indigenousaction.org/accomplices-not-allies-abolishing-the-ally-industrial-complex/
McKenzie, M. (2013, September 30). No more ‘’allies’’. Retrieved from https://www.bgdblog.org/2013/09/no-more-allies/
What does it mean to be an ally?: Definition and Characteristics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://opseu.org/sites/default/files/what_does_it_mean_to_be_an_ally.pdf