Whether you’ve heard the term on Tumblr or in your classroom, being an ally is an important concept…one that people screw up all the time. If you don’t know what an ally is, here’s the quick and dirty: An ally is a person who helps support their friends who are marginalized in some way, be it gender, race, class, sexuality, body image, disability, etc. This support accompanies a desire to fight against the forces that support their marginalization, which could be anything from the government to that racist homophobe in your English class. You can be a marginalized yourself in some way and still be an ally to someone else who is marginalized in a different way. For example, I’m a black woman, but as someone who is straight, I make sure that I’m a good ally to folks in the LGBTQ community. See?
Unfortunately, so many people think that they’re allies and they mean well but…they’re not really doing a great job. For real, all the good intentions in the world mean nothing here if you’re doing more harm than good. Hey, you might be reading this and thinking that you’re a great ally, but you’re actually doing everything you shouldn’t do. Just to make sure, check out these six things you should absolutely avoid if you want to be a real ally.
You Don't Shut UpRule number one: When marginalized folks are talking about the crap they go through, let them talk. When they're ranting about things that aren't being done to help them, let them talk. When they're mad about not being represented, let them talk. This might sound harsh but rule number one of being a good ally is to shut up because your voice has privilege and theirs doesn't. This isn't to say that you should never ask questions or anything like that, but you should tread carefully and make sure you don't make everything all about your opinion. Your opinion might just be the status quo so...think about it.
You Don't ListenThere is a difference between hearing and listening. You might hear your friend go on about how they feel like their gender identity is complicated, but are you actually listening to them? Are you actually listening to the problems they face or are you thinking that they're being a little overdramatic? Listen to your friends, please! They don't have many people out there who will bother, so please be the person who does.
You Make It All About YouUnfortunately, many allies have a tendency to have a huge ego. "Look at me, I support my friends who experience racism!" Then the second they say something wrong, they act as if that's impossible because their intent was good and they didn't mean to be offensive and OMG DON'T BE MAD AT ME MY BEST FRIEND IS BLACK. Listen, this isn't about you. Leave your ego at home. We all make mistakes. Which brings us to...
You Don't Own Up To Being WrongLike I said, we all make mistakes and screw up. When a marginalized person corrects you or calls you out for saying something racist or transphobic or homophobic or whatever, own up to messing up and don't do it again so you can all move on. Don't start crying about it and focus all the energy on you and your hurt feelings. We. All. Make. Mistakes. Grow up.
You Don't Ask How You Can HelpYou think that just because you don't use a racial slur and you are cool with gay marriage that you're a good ally. Cute, but that's doing the bare minimum. Ask your marginalized friends what you can actually do to help them out. that might mean joining them at a protest or just speaking up for them in a messed up situation. Photo source: Big Cartel
You Don't Do Enough To Fight MarginalizationAre you actively calling out your friends when they say racist, homophobic or sexist things? If not, your silence is hurting your marginalized friend, not helping them. Being an ally is more than just saying, "I'm an ally!" Act like it.
What other annoying things do bad allies do? Do you consider yourself an ally? Tell us in the comments!