I wrote this post earlier this month but I thought that it would be a good one to share here.
As I’ve mentioned multiple times before as a feminist, being an ally is incredibly important to me. So what does that actually mean and how did I get there? Well being an ally is supporting, listening to, and advocating for the awareness of issues of communities that you are not a part of. I don’t think that I had a defining moment where afterward I thought, “Yeah, I’m an ally.” It was kind of one of things that I probably always was and just didn’t know there was a name for it.
I think in a nutshell it’s safe to say that I’m an ally because…..well because it’s the right thing to do. People deserve to be comfortable as themselves and I don’t think that it’s fair to judge based on one aspect of their identity just because you “don’t get it.”
In a previous post I talked about the importance of inclusion and diversity as it related to my university. (You can read that post here). Within that post I said that there was a phrase that I was starting to live by: Something that you may not understand is still another person’s reality. I still, and will forever carry this phrase in the back of my mind. I may not understand what it’s like to be a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, or to have a disability, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t support them and help make sure that people are aware of their issues. Another thing that is important to be aware of as an ally is: You never know anyone’s story unless they tell you. This is literally a fact of life. You may be able to look at someone and make assumptions but none of them will matter, because you don’t actually know anything about that person. These two things are incredibly important and need to be remembered at all times.
When it comes to being an ally it is very easy to get carried away and accidentally overstep your boundaries. To avoid that, the first thing that you need to do is check your privilege. It’s important to understand that while you support a group that you are not a part of, you do not actually know what it’s like to be a part of that community. There is a huge difference between being a supporting voice and talking over the voices that need to be heard. Sometimes as the ally, your job is to not talk and just listen. Sometimes that is what’s needed. Other times your thoughts as an ally are important to help the majority community understand the needs of the underrepresented groups. Don’t just assume that you’re supposed to sweep in as the knight in shining armor. Listen and then find where you are needed.
A friend of mine once said, “Being an ally is more than an identity, it’s an action.”It’s been over a year since they said this and it has stuck with me ever since. I can say that I’m an ally, but if I’m not actually doing anything then am I really? Doing something (for me) has been, joining student clubs, promoting events, getting Safe Zone Trained (specifically for awareness of the LGBTQIA+ community), sharing videos and letters of people’s experiences, correcting people when they say something that is either incorrect or ignorant and offensive, and most importantly, always keeping these issues in mind. I think it’s interesting when someone has the nerve to call themselves an advocate or an ally, but doesn’t actually want to do the work or even talk about issues that people face. You don’t get to decide to turn your allyship on and off when it’s convenient for you or makes you look good. That’s not how it works. You can’t just talk about the issues after something has already happened either. You don’t put fights for civil rights and social justice on pause, they continue until the goal is accomplished. In today’s society that means that once you reach on goal, you immediately turn around to fight another battle. And even when one battle is won that doesn’t necessarily mean that the fight is over.
I attended a Jesuit university and although I am not Catholic, I appreciate the Jesuit values that we were taught. One of them is Cura Personalis – caring for the whole person. So I can’t say yeah I really care about you as a person and as my friend but I don’t support your religion *or insert some other aspect of someone’s identity* That’s not how it goes. To be a good ally you have to embrace all of someone’s identities and sometimes they may even conflict with your own. But essentially that what an ally is about. It’s saying, you identify this way while I identify that way but I support you and I am here for you.
So if you are, or want to be an ally, keep all of these things in mind and know that it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s okay to mess up. Just be able to take it upon yourself to stay educated, listen, and correct the mistakes that you make.
One more thing that I would like to add is to make sure that you are being inclusive of entire communities. If you’re talking about race, remember that it’s not just black and white. If you’re talking about LGBTQIA+ rights, learn all of the letters and acknowledge that there is more than just gay and straight. If you’re talking about the religion, understand that not everyone practice Christianity. Remember that there is always more than what’s on the surface, otherwise you’re not really an ally.