Welcome to part two of this two-part series on allyship — click here to read part one — one of the neologisms born out of contemporary English-language social justice activism. More specifically, this piece will discuss what it takes to move from performative allyship to effective allyship, and, like part one, draws from the work of Jess Mally, co-founder of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) agency Belovd.
Although we defined the broad sense of what an ally is in part one, we’re including it below for good measure. That said, if you haven’t yet read part one, which focuses on the concept of performative allyship, we encourage you to check it out!
What is an ally?
An ally is understood to be someone who advocates for the inclusion and equal representation of marginalized communities for the benefit of humanity on the whole through intentional and positive efforts. Allyship is not an identity but a state of being that continues to support people or groups outside of themselves.
Allyship is not reserved only for the super privileged—anyone can assume allyship as privilege is intersectional. Thus, men can be allies to women, white women can be allies to people of color, economically privileged people can be allies to those who are not, etc.
What constitutes “effective” allyship?
To define effective allyship, Jess Mally paraphrases a quotation from The Anti-Oppression Network which she declares one of her favorites: “[Allyship] is an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a group that has been marginalized.”
Thus, rather than a self-defined identity, allyship is a process and an unceasing action. Here are five indications that you’re practicing effective allyship and should keep doing what you’re doing!
You’re doing the internal work of constantly unlearning and re-evaluating
Embodying effective allyship takes more than just occasional engagement with the internal work that is necessary to unlearn your own biases and take in new narratives. The work of dismantling oppression has to start from the inside out and is not a destination but a lifelong journey.
You pay Black folks
A great and tangible way to start practicing effective allyship is to, as the old saying goes, put your money where your mouth is. Ensure that your dollar goes towards supporting Black-owned shops, Black-led charities, and the online educators out there that are helping you do the internal work. Most social media educators will have Venmo or PayPal, so if you know that they play an intrinsic role in your personal growth, thank them by supporting them financially.
You call out racism (or any “ism”) and call people in
There are a lot of narratives and stereotypes out there that only uphold the current oppressive system. When you are with your friends, family, and colleagues, harmful comments or interactions that promote narratives such as “the angry Black woman,” colorism, bodies of color as commodities, etc., then stop those narratives in their tracks.
For historically marginalized people to be truly safe within their empowerment and freedom requires that these narratives (no matter how “small” they may seem in the moment) are stopped because they continue to promote dehumanization and fear.
You support and demand anti-racist policies
Allyship is inherently political because there are still policies in place that either uphold the status quo or demand change. Support leaders who are actively challenging and changing policy and hold current leaders and politicians accountable for their actions.
You center marginalized voices and make space
Effective allyship means reminding yourself again and again that you are not there to speak for marginalized and oppressed communities, but are doing your part to make space for them—whether at work, school, or at social events—and are ensuring that their voices are heard. Instead of using your privilege to talk louder and for longer, you use your privilege to open the doors that are historically closed to these identities and allow them to walk through.
Keep moving forward
Learning to practice effective allyship is not something we can easily cross off our to-do lists. It means constantly taking an honest look at our motives, evaluating whether our past contributions and actions were helpful (even if our intentions were good), and then constructing new pathways to allyship that are better informed and executed.
Of course, the important part is to simply start and to know from the get-go that we’ll get it wrong sometimes. And that’s okay, as long as we continue to maintain an open heart and the willingness to keep learning and listening to those we ally ourselves with.