Allyship is a lifelong journey filled with uncomfortable moments, mistakes, and deliberate actions. You may lose some relationships along the way, but you will gain many more invaluable ones. – ARiA
Allyship is an active and consistent practice of using your own power and privilege to achieve equity and inclusion, while holding yourself accountable to marginalized people’s needs. Human nature is to get defensive when our worldview and assumptions are challenged. An ally works to overcome that instinctual reaction, gets comfortable with being uncomfortable, and takes action to address issues as they learn of them in order to benefit BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People Of Color) around them… not themselves. True allyship is authentic, not performative.
While possible for marginalized groups to take gradual steps toward equality, it is an extremely difficult, long, slow process. Allies – while not a member of said marginalized group – can leverage their power and privilege to amplify and support the voices and work of marginalized peoples. Academia can benefit greatly from a workforce that is free to be their authentic selves without consequence or discrimination. Together, we can challenge the status quo and tackle systemic issues within our institutions that disproportionately impact BIPOC peoples.
Being an ally starts at an individual level. We have to start by taking stock of the privileges and power we hold in different settings. This requires us to do research on our own, have uncomfortable conversations with BIPOC within our network to understand how we may be perpetuating issues, and working to address ourselves through intensive reflection and action. This is a continual process! As we step through this process, we start to see racism (overt and subtle) more easily around us. Speak up when we see/hear it! Make room for BIPOC at the table, and help amplify their voices.
Move from Intentions to Actions
As noted above, the work of being an ally starts with self-reflection and self-awareness. That is not to say that you must be perfect before you start working, or that you will fully understand what it is like to be oppressed based on race, gender, or other factors. Rather, it is about recognizing that there is much to learn and that it will be a continual journey; owning your mistakes along the way and committing to proactive exploration and education.
Act by studying and understanding the issues and concepts to the point where you are able to explain it to others.
Recognize that there are effective ways to be an ally, but there are also commonly displayed ways that are often misconstrued as allyship. It’s the difference between performative and authentic allyship.
Take some time to learn about the types of systemic racism within our institutions, understand and acknowledge how you as an individual participate and contribute to these systems, and work to identify ways to change the systems to be more inclusive. Take stock of your implicit biases and take an open-minded approach to listening to others about the impact your words and actions have.
Act by examining yourself. Identify attitudes and behaviors you need to change and practice embodying those changes consistently and persistently until you have formed new habits and adopted a more inclusive mindset.
When you understand your own biases, it becomes easier to identify the manifestation of bias in your daily lives by others. For example, things like microaggressions will become easier to spot in the moment… growth comes through being willing to speak up and call these type things out. You may not say it perfectly, and you will undoubtedly make mistakes. Be willing to accept criticism and learn from those mistakes without being defensive.
Act by teaching what you have learned to others through conversation, training, and coaching. Focus on changing the attitudes and practices of others and enforcing inclusive culture through policy.
Use your privilege to amplify the voices of those with less power and privilege around you. Ensure that the culture within your realms of influence are focused on allowing space for all people to have a voice and get credit for their contributions. You can serve as an ally to members of underrepresented groups by highlighting their work in public settings, championing them to others even when they aren’t around, learn their career goals and what brings them joy, and giving them opportunities to grow in a safe environment.