How to Be a Better Ally
Dean R. Pratchett
An ally can be defined as someone who supports equal civil rights, gender and racial equality and social movements. An ally also challenges homophobia, racism and religious intolerance. What does it mean, however, to be an ally? Do you think you qualify?
Over the years, I’ve noticed one repeated topic of conversation in various groups I support is allies – and how they could be better. Many allies, unfortunately, go about showing their support the wrong way and are unaware of how they are in fact hurting, not helping, these groups. Sometimes it is in the actions or words they use. Other times it can be the result of inaction that harms the community. So here is a collection of various tips I’ve received on being a better ally that can be applied to any group or organization.
Personalize your experience, step into their shoes, and try to understand how your own actions and words affect those around you. Work to understand your own feelings regarding their issues. Talk less and listen more. Be emotionally supportive and don’t make it about you. Try not to make assumptions about what groups a person belongs to or identifies with.
Instead, assume that a person could identify with something completely different from what you expect. Be careful of jokes that make fun of inappropriate topics, like a medical issue, genetic disorder or physical condition, race, gender, a person’s appearance, religious choices or customs and cultural customs. None of these are ever appropriate. Consider your words and actions no matter where you are. You never know who could be listening. If you’re unsure about the appropriateness of a topic, say nothing and research it later.
While specific to the LGBTQ community, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t out others. Sharing something personal that a person has trusted to you doesn’t entitle you to share the fact with everyone else. Knowing something about a person’s gender, orientation or cultural practices doesn’t give you the right to share this without consulting them first, nor should you feel you know best in a conversation because you are connected to one of these individuals. Be aware that opinions, actions and preferences may differ from person to person, even within the same communities.
Don’t be satisfied with words and actively advocate for change. Socialize by attending events or joining student and community organizations. Be willing to speak up. Call out stereotypical representations in the media or in conversations. Don’t sit by when it’s convenient for you, but do consider your safety and the safety of those around you when bringing up a topic. Some conversations will be challenging. Educate your peers by sponsoring club events with other organizations. Bring up relevant topics into discussions. Correct appropriately and politely. Speak up on social media platforms. Vote! It matters. The policies put in place greatly affect everyone’s health, safety and well-being.
Think critically. Be willing to understand you won’t know everything. Be on the lookout for misinformation. If an opinion seems strong, find out why that is. Validate the information you find. Check sources. Read multiple versions and opinions of an event or issue. See all sides to a problem. Be aware that sometimes the standard of what is acceptable has changed, so stay current. Self-assess and reflect on what you learn from time to time, and how you feel about certain topics. Assert self-care and tackle things in moderation.
Get educated. Be willing to listen to individuals who offer their time to teach you in a respectable manner. Be respectful with your questions and inquiries. Learn about pronouns, inclusivity or what words and phrases are considered offensive. Learn about the history and challenges faced by these groups. Invest in training and diversity education programs offered by the university, your workplace and local community. Take university courses specific to groups, African-American history, Women’s and Gender Studies and more. Diversify your media consumption by subscribing to blogs, social accounts, podcasts, vlogs, news sites and magazines you normally wouldn’t think to read. Many of these often bring up current issues, topics and often talk about allies.
Learn to apologize without caveats. Sometimes you get it wrong, you say the wrong pronouns, you misquote a source, you say something inappropriate or don’t speak up about something offensive. It’s okay. We’re human and we mess up. Don’t make it a huge deal, simply be straightforward and apologize without making a fuss. Don’t preface by saying “no offense.” Be humble and move on. Everyone will appreciate it.
Do good simply for the sake of good, not rewards. Understand that the focus is not on you. The focus should be protecting and assisting those you are an ally to. We know you’re there, as an ally, and appreciate you all the same. So, consider your impact on the community, rather than your personal intentions. Be an ally. Be supportive. Someday, when you need your own ally, we’ll be here for you, too.