*The Allyship Workshop Series was created in house at Stand Up Speak Up by a small team of writers and researchers with the consultation of several sensitivity readers. We present this information as an invitation to learn along with us and do not claim to be experts on the topic of allyship and advocacy. If you have any questions or concerns about anything you see in this workshop, please let us know. We hope this workshop will evolve as we continue to listen and become better allies.*
A variety of emotions, feelings and reactions are going to come up for you throughout your journey to becoming an ally and with each situation that you encounter within this space. It is important to remember that you will not always choose the best possible thing to say or do, no matter how much experience you have. Mistakes will be made. New things will be learned.
What is important, is to consistently assess your own behaviors and actions alongside those of others and our societies systems and practices as a whole. When you are feeling scared, defensive, angry, or confused, it can help to dig to find out where those feelings and responses are coming from.
In this module, we will be looking at a few barriers that might come up for you along the way.
Your Comfort Zone
To be an effective ally, you will be asked to learn about your comfort zone on a regular basis. Are you afraid to speak up and ruin the family dinner when someone makes a racist comment?? Comfort zone. Choose your new home based on the “best” neighborhoods? Comfort zone. Rely on common stereotypes to form an opinion rather than getting to know the individual?Comfort zone. Only watch films and read books about characters that you personally identify with? Comfort zone.
Keep in mind the saying, “Your comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there.” It takes strength and courage to step outside of what is comfortable, but it needs to be done if you are going to achieve positive change within yourself as well as help contribute to change in the world around you.
A great place to start when examining your comfort zone is looking at how you respond to stereotypes. This video by Franchesca Ramsey for MTV’s Decoded is a great place to start:
The Need for a Personal Connection
Being an ally means being an active participant and working for change for the long-term. We all know that systemic change does not come quickly. So, there might be times when you become tired, disillusioned or lose hope that you can make a difference alongside others. There are likely going to be times when you question if this is even the right space for you.
For those working towards allyship, there is a risk of experiencing imposter’s syndrome. You might question if you really “belong” fighting for the rights of groups that you don’t belong to or speaking up about issues where you don’t have personal experience. Keep in mind that when it comes to creating more equality in the world, it is the majority, who currently hold the most power, who should hold the burden to change. This is something we are all involved in, even if you don’t have an inside look into the lives of those who have been oppressed or need your support.
Flipping the burden of responsibility can change everything when it comes to finding that personal connection:
Racism is a problem white people need to fix.
Assault against women and sexism is a problem men need to fix.
Ableism is a problem able bodied people need to fix.
This video featuring Anti-Racism Trainer Matthew Kincaid for NowThis is a great beginning to shifting that focus when it comes to supporting Black communities.
Personal bias and skewed experiences
Often, allyship calls for us to challenge bias, prejudice, and discrimination in the world. However, none of us are without bias within ourselves. We have lived in worlds filled with systemic biases and have been taught that these attitudes and values are the “norm” and even the “ideal.” When you’re starting your journey as an ally, it can feel hypocritical to call for an end to all bias and unjust behavior.
Keep in mind that being an ally does not erase past behavior or mean that you need to be “perfect” in your actions going forward. Being an ally means that you’re making a conscious effort every day to improve your own speech and actions to promote equal rights for all and to positively influence others as best you can. You will likely continue to make mistakes but are willing to grow with them.
Here is a great snippet of an interview with Prince Harry talking about his moment of realization of his unconscious bias and what that meant during an interview for British GQ with Patrick Hutchinson:
Examining your own barriers will not only make you a better ally, but it will also give you a better understanding of who you are as a person. You might find these barriers showing up in other elements of your life where they are holding you back.
As you likely already know, being an ally is about more than just talk. It requires a lot of work and consistent assessment of your actions and what more you can do to listen, learn and grow. In our next module, we will talk a little about avoiding being a performative ally and how these practices can actually be counterproductive to the movement or group you are trying to support.