Allyship, defined as the active practice of unlearning one’s privilege in relation to structures and domains of life to support marginalized and racialized communities, can be thought of as an act of resistance. It is about questioning the epistemology of knowledge. It is about becoming aware of what is unaware. Most of all, it is an investigation of one’s self as much as it is an investigation of what one considers as the “other.”
Society has produced a homogenized way of thinking, and in that process, it has created certain norms: concepts that are acceptable and right. The practice of allyship is to dismantle these norms to make way for different ways of being. Outlined below are roles and responsibilities of an ally.
- Allyship is not a static identity, but an active and ongoing practice: One of the most important concepts to remember is that labelling yourself as an ally is like a career. It is something that goes beyond wearing a badge because there are no levels of accomplishment – it is a continuous process that is always changing. You are a representation of what you do. It is a daily endeavour and a lifelong pursuit.
- Allies acknowledge their own privilege in relation to those they are supporting: The concept of privilege acts as the gateway for the kinds of things you experience in your life. In order to support a community, you must do some self-reflection. Ask yourself: what power do I hold based on who I identify as? What does my allyship mean to a particular community?
- Allies listen more and speak less: As much as it is important to participate in discussions regarding various marginalized and racialized communities, an important part of being an ally is listening to what others have to say. Often times, one person’s experience is very different from another’s, even though they identify with the same community. This way, you will be able to produce a layer and nuanced understanding of the people you are an ally to. It’s important to go directly to the community to engage in meaningful conversations and ask questions, rather than making assumptions.
- Research, Research, Research: Curious about the history of the oppressive structures that people within a particular community face? Do you want to brush up on your understanding of the impacts of colonialism? As a UTSC student you have access to one of the best databases in the world. Read a scholarly article or two, because these papers contain theories that have been heavily discussed. Knowledge is power, so study hard.
- Be Critical: We are exposed to so much information every day that it can get overwhelming – especially if you are trying to figure out which sources are credible and which are not. Start by looking up the authors and creators of the content that you are digesting. And don’t forget: practice asking questions. It will sharpen your judgment.
- Speak out: It is not enough for an ally to only read up on the issues that are affecting someone and stay passive. Use the knowledge that you have gained to translate it into actions. You can do this by starting to speak with the people you are close to in order to build up the courage for when it happens in unfamiliar places. Stay vigilant and do your part to show that you are supportive. Be an active ally and speak up!
- Don’t expect recognition: Be proud of the your actions as an ally, but remember that these are not grand gestures that deserve an applause. After all, being an ally is about respect and fighting for equality – aspects that everyone deserves in the first place.
- Educate others, but do so cautiously: It is important to share what we know in order to build connections with others or come to a shared understanding; however, make sure you aren’t speaking over others’ experience. There’s a fine line between appreciating and appropriating: know the difference.
In the political climate that we are facing now, it is important to stand in solidarity with one another. Kindness and love can only do so much. Being an ally means sometimes having to engage in a constant battle with ignorance, prejudice, and hatred. It is important to determine what it is that you are trying to accomplish by being an ally, because it varies from person to person. Recall that allyship is about challenging yourself. The act itself is about unknowing through knowledge and taking a stance against oppressive systems.