It’s easy to get locked into old habits and behaviors that are inadequate when it comes to supporting people and populations affected by discrimination. Though it is rarely easy, it’s important to break those habits. Here’s a short guide on how to UNLOCK being a good ally to those most in need of one.
Do you have full function of all five of your senses? Do other people assume you are white? Do you not have to worry about your marriage being invalidated by a vote by 9 people? Privilege comes in many forms. Privilege is different from luxury. Privilege is not just having money (although it certainly is a privilege to have money). Privilege is not having to consider an aspect of yourself impeding your ability to pursue your goals. Understand that those aspects you do not need to navigate are daily considerations for others, and negotiating those considerations can be a constant, exhausting endeavor.
Normalize interrupting discriminatory behaviors.
When you witness overt or covert prejudice, discrimination, and antagonization of marginalized individuals in your life, what do you normally do? Many people feel they can tell these behaviors when they see or hear them, and in overt instances, that is probably true. Ideally in those instances, allies will not feel uncomfortable speaking up against them. However, when racism, ableism, sexism, or other prejudiced behaviors are more insidious (think: microaggressions) speaking up against them becomes more uncomfortable. If we make an effort to normalize correcting these behaviors, that discomfort will diminish, and we can move toward making spaces more inclusive and equitable.
Listen to those who don’t share your privilege.
It is not the responsibility of any person from any particular group to tell people how to treat them. However, when they do speak up, it is our duty as allies to listen to what they are saying, hear their discomfort, and accept it as their truth. If your truth and their truth don’t seem in sync with each other, don’t be surprised. This is normal (especially when you are first becoming conscientious of the weighty responsibility of being an ally). When you start to feel guilty for something you said or did (or even for something someone else said or did), resist your defensive instinct, and recognize how painful the behavior must have been for them (and/or how much the person must have trusted that you’d listen) in order for them to speak up.
Open yourself up to accepting criticism.
When listening to people speaking up about how your or others’ actions are discriminatory, do so without excuses. (Fair warning: YOU WILL BE UNCOMFORTABLE DOING THIS!) Remember that what matters is your impact, not your intentions.
A lot of what makes this so uncomfortable is the idea of the “Good/Bad” dichotomy. Robin DiAngelo explains it very well in her book White Fragility. Her focus is race, however the idea of the Good/Bad dichotomy applies to most (if not all) forms of discrimination. It goes something like this:
- We recognize that racism is bad, and so not being racist is good.
- We consider ourselves to be good people, and do not want to be bad people.
- We believe that to engage in racist behavior one must be a bad person. (the mental trap is set…)
- We know ourselves to be good people, therefore the behavior couldn’t have been racist (...and the trap is sprung).
You see how that trap works? The Good/Bad dichotomy explains why we get sooooo uncomfortable talking about our flawed behavior. What is important to realize is that you can be a good person who makes mistakes, but it is critical to listen when people explain how your actions’ impact is hurtful, and make an effort to change those behaviors.
Consider other people’s perspectives and if your actions could hurt them.
As I mentioned before, it is not the responsibility of any person from any particular group to tell people how to treat them.
“But how am I to know how I’m supposed to act if they don’t tell me!?!”
A few things to that:
- “Political Correctness” needs a rebranding campaign as “Consideration.” It’s a lot harder for people to say they don’t want to be considerate than politically correct, when in fact, they are the same thing.
- Consideration is mentally reviewing the impact your actions may have on people. (Remember, intention doesn’t affect other people, impact does). If a person (or group of people) may be hurt by your behavior, it is crucial that you ask yourself (before doing it) if it is necessary, and/or if there is a way to do it that does not have a hurtful impact.
- Desmond Tutu famously said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” When we are in situations where there is an oppressed population, and a non-oppressed, or oppressive group, it is our duty as allies to support the oppressed group because in their world, over which we have some impact, they are being wronged.
Keep up-to-date on current events and how they might affect marginalized groups.
Our world is ever-changing, and it is easy for us to fall into habits of only keeping track of what affects us. Over the past year we have felt it all the more in having to nearly fight each other for things like toilet paper, public services, and vaccines.
Rarely are situations a zero-sum scenario – if you are unfamiliar with that term, it’s a good one to wrap your head around. The illusion of zero-sum scenarios in situations in which they do not exist has led to much of the systemic racism, ablism, gender-discrimination, and other forms of marginalization that pervade our culture.
As groups and individuals try to use these and other arguments to reduce, remove, or regulate the rights of marginalized people, we must all pay attention. Such gestures by lawmakers as removing rights of transgender people matter. Gestures are signals to their constituents. Calls for “law and order,” when the oppressor is the law, are statements declaring that the oppressed are getting out-of-hand and need to be “whipped into shape…” It’s hard to consider that phrase without considering who is being “whipped…”
It’s easy to pay attention to that which only affects you, but how can you support those to whom you declare yourself allied, if you don’t know what threatens them?
Remember: Black, Brown, Indigenous, Women’s, Transgender, Disability, Immigrant, and LGBQIA+ rights are human rights. UNLOCK to be a good ally.
Gary Bernard DiNardo
Executive Director for We Thr3e Queens Productions