Taking steps toward allyship

Dana Walden, Opinion Editor

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, we have seen protests in every state and a mass media campaign against police brutality. Now, more than ever before, non-Black communities need to show up for Black people; if real change is to happen, everyone needs to do their part. But what does it mean to be an ally? How can we support Black communities with the resources available to us? Allyship is complicated and often confusing, but I assure you, the work is worth it. This article will give you some pointers on how to be a better ally—if you don’t know where to start, start here. If you consider yourself an ally, read it anyway; it never hurts to brush up on the basics.

With that said, I am not a perfect ally—no one is. I still make mistakes and get things wrong, but failing is a necessary part of personal growth. Becoming an better ally takes patience, dedication and perseverance, especially when you are new to allyship. Allyship is not a stagnant condition to be achieved. An ally must always work toward being the best ally they can, and the demands of allyship may depend on the context. So, here are some things you can do to take steps toward being an ally to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement:

  1.  Listen. Perhaps the most important part of being an ally is listening actively to the experiences, reflections and demands of the black community. Our White privilege prevents us from experiencing the kind of oppression people of color face. We cannot know how and where our allyship is needed without listening to those who need it. People of color are telling us what we can do to help; they are telling us what they need. Believe Black people and listen to understand. Thank those who have taken the time and energy to teach you about the realities of Black life in America—people of color do not have to take the emotional labor to educate you, so when they do, value and appreciate their perspective.
  2.  Learn. As college students, we have virtually unlimited academic resources at our fingertips, and we should be using them. There are countless books, articles, podcasts and documentaries that aim to educate us and complicate our understandings of race. A quick google search can give you suggestions—I would recommend reading the works of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, but there are countless tools at your disposal. With this said, academic learning is not the only kind of learning; we learn through experiences, through conversations, through living.
  3.  Reflect. Think about how you benefit from a racist system. Find the spots where race interacts with your life. Spoiler alert—it’s everywhere. Recognize how you are complicit in a racist society. Contend with the ways in which you see racial dynamics impacting the lives of those around you. Think about how your race impacts your privilege and how this complicates your identity. Question what you have been taught about race and the stereotypes that have been imparted to you. Question your biases, your inclinations. This part is uncomfortable, and it will always be uncomfortable. However, it is incredibly important to understand how you fit into the system in order to fight it.   
  4.  Support. Now that you have a better understanding of how your positionality contributes to or benefits from oppressive structures, you can act to dismantle them. Support can come in many forms: protesting, calling and emailing public officials, having tough conversations with family members and friends, and of course, donating to causes and organizations that support the prosperity of black Americans. Anything you can do to stand with BLM is valuable—if you face barriers to any of these examples, know that there are alternatives, and know that the movement needs all the good you can do.  

While this list is focused on what you can do to be an ally, remember that being an ally is not about you; it is about the people you are standing with, the people who need your support. Read the points above, but know that allyship is not a checklist. You could do everything on this list and still be working against Black folk. If your allyship is about making yourself feel comfortable, your allyship is not yet genuine.

Allyship is not about appearing trendy or socially acceptable. Posting a black square on Instagram is not enough. Donating to a bail fund is not enough. Protesting is not enough. You have to truly believe in what you are advocating for and who you are advocating for. You have to want it, not just for yourself, but for others.

Remember that allyship takes patience, both with yourself and with others. It takes time to work on yourself, time to read and research, time to process. Do not let anyone shame you for not getting it right immediately. With this said, allyship is not an individual process. Allyship will change your relationship to your community and to yourself, but the work is so, so rewarding. The work that has been done to dismantle racism must be a collaborative effort—and being a better ally is part of that. Go be one.