A transgender man is being harassed about using the restroom of his choice. A boss is not respecting an employee’s preferred pronouns. A person of color is being discriminated against at a local store. A woman just found out she is getting paid significantly less than her male counterpart. A family member continues to make racial jokes that make everyone uncomfortable. The elevator in a local apartment building is broken (again), which makes things difficult for residents with disabilities.
What do all these examples have in common? Every person in each instance needs an ally. There’s no doubt that you’ve heard the word before but, what does it mean to be an ally in your everyday life?
Let’s start with a simple definition. An ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group who takes action to support that group. In other words, an ally comes from a place of privilege to give support to those who do have less privilege.
How can I help when these problems are so big? Well, the first step starts with you. And, these small actions are better than no actions at all. In fact, small actions add up to big change over time. You have the power to influence others to do that same.
1. Ask yourself a question
What is it like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? Yes, it’s cliché, but I can’t think of a better way to imagine the difficulties that different groups are facing. When one comes from a place of privilege, it’s hard to imagine the obstacles that underrepresented groups go through on a daily basis.
What privileges do you take for granted? Is it being able to walk up a flight of stairs? Is it being heard in a meeting with clients? Or maybe it’s being able to walk through life without having your identity questioned. How do you use these privileges to navigate everyday life? These are some hard hitting questions, but I guarantee it will point you in the right direction to start your ally journey.
2. Always be a student
Educating yourself is another step towards being an ally. Laws change frequently and new legislation is brought to the table weekly, if not daily. Think about how these new laws or proposals affect marginalized groups. Try to keep an eye on current events, as they are good barometers of how communities are dealing with certain issues. You can try reading alternative news sources, like those of action groups. You can also try reading books by people of color or about cultures or groups that you want to learn more about.
No one is ever an expert, so your job as an ally is to continue to learn about people that are in need of allies. Learn how to identify homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination and abuse. Never make assumptions about how a specific group feels.
It’s okay to ask questions so that you can become a better ally. Listening, and therefore learning, is sometimes the best thing you can do for a person who feels marginalized. Letting someone know that they are being heard is a great first step.
3. Keep your eyes and ears open
It’s easy to go about life thinking only of yourself, but is that the best way to live? Become more aware of what’s going on around you. Whether it’s on public transportation, inside your favorite store, or simply running on a local path, being aware of what is happening around you is a great start. Be present, active and engaged.
There are quite a few resources around that can help you. A group called HollaBack has an excellent bystander training guide to help allies know how to help in certain situations. It takes about twenty minutes and is well worth it.
Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Could it be that simple? It just might be. Allies are in high demand and if you strive to act as one in a world where discrimination runs rampant, you’re doing your part to make things a little easier for those in need.