In all the years that there have been marginalized citizens, there have been those that are not marginalized that stand by their sides. These people are known as “allies”. Contrary to how a lot of feminists feel, I believe allies are very important. Allies show that it is possible for the majority to sympathize and recognize the struggles of marginalized citizens. They also can communicate with those that are not allies the importance of supporting those being discriminated against. Bernie Sanders was very vocal during the civil rights movement and continues to speak up for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community even though he is a straight, white male. Matt McGorry of ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder is feminist and unafraid. Anne Hathaway has always been very vocal about her stance on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights not because it’s “on trend” but because she genuinely believes love is love. “Love is a human experience, not a political statement,” she says. Being an ally is great, but it is important to be sure that you’re not just labeling yourself an ally just to present yourself to others as “woke”. If you want to be a good ally just follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way.
Nothing is more aggravating than when someone who has never been through what you’ve been through tells you that they know how you feel. An ally may understand how their gay best friend feels but unless they themselves have ever experienced discrimination and hate based solely on their sexuality, they will never truly know how their friend feels. But, that’s ok! We don’t want allies to suffer. We want them to listen. When we tell them of our struggles with hate and injustice, we don’t want them to try and relate, we just want to be heard. A good ally would say something like, “I’m so sorry you have/had to go through that. What can I do?” Someone that isn’t a very good ally would say something like “Omg I know exactly how you feel. People always discriminate against me because they think I’m a dumb blonde.” (Yes, someone has actually said that to me before.)
- Speak Up
Being an ally isn’t like being a silent partner. The most important part about being an ally is standing up for your cause. An ally shouldn’t stay silent when his or her people are being treated unjustly. I’m not saying allies have to be at every protest or get in fights with their neighbors on Facebook. However, if they see something wrong, they should say something. If that uncle says something racist at the dinner table, it should be mentioned how his behavior is harmful. If a friend makes a gay joke, an ally would make it clear that they’re not here for it. It’s ok to be scared of making waves, but it’s a necessary part of being an ally. No one said it was easy, but if it’s uncomfortable confronting bad behavior for someone else, imagine how they feel on a daily basis when it’s directed at them.
Allyship is not a part-time job. A good ally shouldn’t pick and choose their cause based on how popular it is. Just cause they went to the women’s march with a bunch of lady friends doesn’t mean they get to sit silently for the next year. When faced with a situation that requires standing up for someone who is marginalized, good allies don’t just retreat into their privilege because they’re uncomfortable. Marginalized people don’t get to hide from their oppression; therefore, allies don’t get to either.
- Be Real
When it comes to being an ally, it’s very important that their motives are pure. Good allies shouldn’t label themselves feminists because they think it’ll help get them laid. A real ally certainly wouldn’t wear a “Black Lives Matter” shirt because they think we’ll let them say the “n-word”. Newsflash: we won’t. Using the oppressed for personal gain is characteristic of the oppressor, not an ally. An ally shows support by being empathetic and hurting with those they’re supporting. If they don’t possess that quality it’s difficult to deem them a “good ally”.
- Be Open-Minded
Sometimes, even allies get called out. That’s just a fact. The good news is, that doesn’t make them a bad person. It doesn’t mean we’re against them now. Everyone makes mistakes and any respectable feminist knows that. What matters is how an ally handles the criticism. It’s best to avoid getting defensive. It’s more productive to listen to what went wrong and why to avoid doing it again in the future. It’s ok to ask questions. We want allies to fully understand why certain behaviors aren’t acceptable. Our society as a whole practices a lot of harmful behaviors that have been engrained over years and years. We know that they’re not going to get fixed over night. It’s important to note that just because a friend says that a certain harmful behavior is ok doesn’t mean that it is. This is especially true if said friend is also an “ally”. For example, white people shouldn’t tell other white people that they’re not racist. Considering white people can’t actually experience racism themselves, it’s not exactly fair for them to be the judge.
As the dynamic between marginalized citizens and allies continues to change, so will what it means to be a good ally. When it comes to combating injustice and inequality, there is no perfect formula. The best we can do is to stand united against hate and discrimination. We are stronger together after all.