Being vocal is one of the most important aspects of allyship. What’s especially important is speaking up amongst, and sometimes against, other people in the groups you belong to. If you’re a White person and hear or see other White people perpetuating racist or discriminatory ideologies, speak up. If you’re a straight or cis person and hear or see bigotry towards LGBT communities, speak up. Oftentimes, people are wholly resistant to hearing anything, especially pushback from actual members of the groups they put down. When important criticism comes from someone who walks a similar path in life, however, it can make a world of difference. And even when speaking up doesn’t go well – because it sometimes won’t – it’s usually worth it. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said,
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Oftentimes, people who think of themselves as allies interrupt or, worse yet, talk over people from the very group they claim to be allies to. If someone is speaking about an issue that affects them personally, intimately, and in ways you could never understand, let them speak. It is not your job to help them along the way, to butt in, and certainly not to redirect the conversation. Though it is important to do your own research (see below), it’s also important to know when statistics and numbers are irrelevant and when lived experience takes precedence. Reading, studying, or hearing about injustices is simply not the same as actually living them. Under no circumstances should anyone from outside a community offer advice on intracommunity issues. Under no circumstances should anyone from outside a community suggest how a marginalized group should express or present themselves. What might feel like genuine concern comes off as paternalistic patronization. Shutting up, and listening up, requires de-centering yourself from the conversation. It requires looking past your own experiences and acknowledging that something being uncomfortable doesn’t make it untrue. Perhaps most importantly, it requires understanding why it is you are so accustomed to being centered in the first place.
Nobody is required to educate you on their life and their particular experiences with oppression. In 2016, we have access to countless resources, including YouTube, academic papers, and informative blogs of all kinds. Being a productive member of society means constantly educating yourself, constantly growing. Do the work.
Faithlynn Morris seeks to face the world with openness, kindness, and compassion. Her interest in, and passion for, social and political issues has only gotten stronger and more fervent as the years pass and the world progresses. She has a Master’s degree in forensic psychology.