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The Do's and Don'ts of Being a Good Ally

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Good Ally

1. Don’t derail a discussion. Even if it makes you personally uncomfortable to discuss X issue…it’s really not about you or your comfort. It’s about X issue, and you are absolutely free to not engage rather than try to keep other people from continuing their conversation.

2. Do read links/books referenced in discussions. Again, even if the things being said make you uncomfortable, part of being a good ally is not looking for someone to provide a 101 class midstream. Do your own heavy lifting.

3. Don’t expect your feelings to be a priority in a discussion about X issue. Oftentimes people get off onto the tone argument because their feelings are hurt by the way a message was delivered. If you stand on someone’s foot and they tell you to get off? The correct response is not “Ask nicely” when you were in the wrong in the first place.

4. Do shut up and listen. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to the people actually living X experience. There is nothing more obnoxious than someone (however well intentioned) coming into the spaces of a marginalized group and insisting that they absolutely have the solution even though they’ve never had X experience. You can certainly make suggestions, but don’t be surprised if those ideas aren’t well received because you’ve got the wrong end of the stick somewhere.

5. Don’t play Oppresion Olympics. Really, if you’re in the middle of a conversation about racism? Now is not the time to talk about how hard it is to be a white woman and deal with sexism. Being oppressed in one area does not mean you have no privilege in another area. Terms like intersectionality and kyriarchy exist for a reason. Also…that’s derailing. Stop it.

6. Do check your privilege. It’s hard and often unpleasant, but it’s really necessary. And you’re going to get things wrong. Because no one is perfect. But part of being an ally is being willing to hear that you’re doing it wrong.

7. Don’t expect a pass into safe spaces because you call yourself an ally. You’re not entitled to access as a result of not being an asshole. Sometimes it just isn’t going to be about you or what you think you should happen. Your privilege didn’t fall away when you became an ally, and there are intra-community conversations that need to take place away from the gaze of the privileged.

8. Do be willing to stand up to bigots. Even if all you do is tell a friend that the thing they just said about X marginalized group is unacceptable, you’re doing some of the actual work of being an ally.

9. Don’t treat people like accessories or game tokens. Really, you get no cool points for having a diverse group of friends. Especially when you try to use that as license to act like an asshole.

10. Do keep trying. Fighting bigotry is a war, not a battle and it’s generational. So, keep your goals realistic, your spirits up (taking a break to recoup emotional, financial, physical reserves is a-okay), and your heart in the right place. Eventually we’ll get it right.

19 comments to The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Good Ally

  • Momsomniac

    Thank you for this. I thank God none of my tangents are on that derail list – I am doing better than that – BUT still, I am working on it…and many other things.

    I am grateful for the lack of classism here and will continue to work on doing as well with my own biases (including the ones I am shocked, embarassed, and nauseated to realize I have).

  • Good, if difficult points. I find, particularly, 10 to be very true. My parents generation is far more tolerant and aware than their parents’. My generation is more tolerant and aware than my parents’. And I hope and pray that my child’s generation is more tolerant and aware than mine.

  • Melinda Bishop

    Karnythia…this was a terrific list. Thanks!

    I recently had a conversation with my father in law, who happens to be white. He is from the Deep South and was born in 1936. He could benefit from reading this.

    I explained to him that when POC experience true racism/bigotry/discrimination and wish to share their experiences, one has to avoid taking it personally. Don’t make it about you. Don’t be offended if somebody talks about an experience you’re unable to relate to. Simply listen and be objective about it. Try to understand the other person’s position.

    It is true that no one in today’s world is a slave or slaveholder…but that doesn’t mean that racism is dead.

    He was very riled up about it. He doesn’t understand that although “honky” and “cracker” are offensive racial slurs directed at whites, they will never have the historical connotation that “n***er” does. After all, POC were not the ones dishing out oppressive and inhumane treatment toward whites. It was the other way around.

    He is a wonderful person but fails to see his position as a privileged member of society. He believes that POC have more privilege than he does. My husband and his sister were also raised to have the attitude of “it isn’t MY fault”, but I believe my husband is slowly becoming more conscious of it. On the other hand, his sister lives in a remote area of Georgia where there are very few black people. She is also afraid and suspicious of black men after being mugged by a black man in the early 90′s. I believe that she does have some “issues” deep down. That was an unfortunate incident. Most black men are not looking to pounce on her wrinkled ass, but she seems to be afraid of that.

    My husband is not always comfortable with talking about race. Sometimes he can be insensitive. There have been times where he basically dismissed what I was trying to say because he felt uncomfortable. After a while he would shift the subject to something completely unrelated, or more “pleasant” and “neutral”.

    Yet he is also willing to be open-minded at times. He realizes that although I live in a mostly white body (based on my phenotype), I’m still a POC. I deal with what it entails. I don’t live in a lily-white world free of worries. I work hard to survive despite being discriminated against depending on how “black” or “white” or “Other” I am perceived to be. I never know when I will be punished for having kinky hair or light skin or simply being myself.

    With that said, there are MANY white people who can be allies or potential allies. There are many white people who wish to see everyone being treated fairly. It should not stem from white guilt, but from a real desire to see positive changes in the way humanity works.

  • brownstocking

    Number 7. This.

    I have to check myself, too, but 7-fail really bugs me.

    I have to grapple with 6 and religion. I exercise my religious privilege way too much, but it’s funny because my group thinks they’re persecuted! It’s hilarious/ironic.

    Thank you for these little mirrors. Every day we just need to do the work.

  • This seems to happen whenever I get into the scraps about affirmative action and mention how White females have benefited most from it. All of the sudden I hear the screeching brakes of an emotional train and know things are derailing. This was a fantastic list.

    Though to be honest I don’t believe that “ally” is a label that one self applies. If I am being a good ally to a community they’ll tell me. I don’t really feel I need to give myself that label. This is from my experience with so-called “allies” who have often behaved more problematically than my so-called “enemies”. I am very careful about throwing that word around to describe the way in which I seek to support other oppressed populations.

  • LDR

    I also feel like it might be presumptuous to call myself an “ally.” I know I’m a “student” — I’m still learning. There’s so much to learn. That’s why I really appreciate this here blog.

    And yeah, I’ve seen allies reveal their ongoing prejudice. It’s scary. Not sure if any ally can be 100% reliable.

  • Antikythera

    I’m agreeing with Snarky’s Machine there, my experience with people who call themselves ‘allies’ is that it’s a self-given cookie, and they screw up just as often as anyone else while pretending they’re better white people than the rest of us. I would feel bad about using the term ‘ally’ and then screwing up in a way that hurt someone. What kind of ally does that? And what white person can claim they never screwed up? I want to help but I don’t want the label.

  • Melinda Bishop

    Antikythera…

    I completely agree with you. LDR made some really good points too. As a biracial WOC, I have no respect for people who pat themselves on the back simply because they’re “nice” to a few people of color.

    Then they move on with their smug self-satisfaction while holding onto prejudice deep down. No thanks!

    I have been around plenty of white people who act as if they have no ill will toward POC, but their true colors show eventually.

    I respect people that are willing to talk about race honestly and openly. I respect people who are willing to admit whatever issues they might have. I respect people who are willing to see the humanity in others, no matter what color they might be.

    That, to me, is the definition of an “ally”. It is somebody who acts out of sincerity rather than a misguided sense of guilt or political correctness. It is somebody who doesn’t pretend to be what they are not. It is somebody who doesn’t talk about their “black friends” to prove how open-minded they are.

    What LDR said inspired me to consider something. The prejudice that some so-called “allies” display is a reflection of the fact that for some people, hate is difficult to overcome. It is deeply rooted in the psyche.

  • Elf Queen

    What a great list! There are so many points on that list that I can relate to specific incidents that have happened to me in the presence of people I would have thought of as allies. One of the most irritating things that a white person can do to a POC is act like my experiences of racism or discrimination have all been in my head. It makes me want to scream at them, “How the hell would you know? When have you been discriminated against because of your race?” And even more irritating than this, is when you call the offending white person out on their ignorance, they violate yet another one of the 10 tips by evoking their token black friend, black relative, any POC with whom they associate. As if that’s proof of some sort that it would be impossible to accuse them of racism. To me, that is the biggest clue to let me know that the offending white person is without a doubt in denial about their privilege and probably also their racist beliefs. Again, awesome list.

  • Adam

    Dear Karnythia (and the other writers on this Blog):

    I do not know how many times I have posted (and said)things that were reckless, careless, and rooted in thought patterns that needed change.

    Indeed, I have learned to “shutup” and keep my fingers off the keyboard for a while and just read and reflect on what is being presented.

    For what it is worth, I am grateful for the way you and the other writers hold yourselves out speak about issues with brutal honesty and razor-sharp clarity.

    All the best,

    Adam

  • Kirby Urner

    This may not be the best place to file this, however I’d be interested in any feedback on my Regarding Objectifying, in particular because a black woman (cartoon character) is featured, followed by some ruminations regarding what it means to objectify.

    Note: I’ve chosen not to have comments in my blog cuz I’m more just publishing my Quaker journals which didn’t have those historically. This may seem unfriendly I realize. I’m happy to link to threads that develop however (e.g. to this blog, which I’ve been studying with interest, doing some homework). Thanks for providing this community service.

  • DBN

    I found this post via http://kateharding.net, and I just wanted to thank you for it.

    (For disclosure, I’m a white woman, and I’ve been trying to check my various forms of privilege for a while. I know that as a feminist, I probably overlook the issue of intersectionality quite frequently, and that’s something I have to deal with. Furthermore, I have to examine my own racist beliefs and visceral ‘but I’m not like that!’ reactions. I know that it’s an on-going project, and that I’ll probably mess up along the way, and feel some unpleasant emotions, but that’s my problem and no one else’s. And it’s necessary if I’m ever to become a true ally. Or, you know, a decent human being.)

  • aedifica

    Commenting way late, sorry, but in response to the thread about whether to call oneself an ally: I’m cautiously starting to call myself an ally now. My reasoning is that even though I make mistakes, if I use that label there are two good things that could come of it: one, people will know I’m trying, and maybe call me out on stuff when I do make mistakes, because they’ll know the mistakes were made in ignorance rather than malice (not to imply that it’s anyone’s job to call me out); and two, other potential allies might say “Huh, I never thought about being an ally, maybe I’ll try to be one too.”

  • Becca

    I’m on the board of a nonprofit Native American Center, and we are doing a volunteer orientation soon. Would you allow me to reprint this to include in our volunteer info packet? It would help us educate (or even just weed out) the people who think they are so special just for showing up that they deserve access to everything including ceremonial stuff that is just plain off limits, or that by helping us with something small they know more about us Natives than we know! Please post if this would be OK! Thank you so much for writing this, and for considering.

  • Becca

    Awesome! Thanks much.

  • cl

    I’m kind of in love with this post. It’s an awesome compilation of my issues with white “allies,” and I’m glad someone put it together and wrote it.