Being an ally means being a companion to someone: you depart on a long and difficult journey and do your best to support them until the end. Imagine going on a journey without any preparation: it would be a short one, because you did not fully commit to it. Allyship is a lifelong journey. It is not an easy path to walk, so before you embark on it you must be prepared with dedication and compassion.
The first step you should take on your journey is to educate yourself and acknowledge your privilege. It is important to do your own research about the racist society we live in, and eliminate biases you may not have even known you had. Though you may not directly experience the pain of racist systems, you can still do everything in your power to support those who do. Being an ally internally is not enough; you become an ally by taking action.
The next step is using your voice and privilege to call out the culturally insensitive or racist behavior that you see in your everyday life. If someone around you makes a racist joke, remark, or post, it is your responsibility to call them out on their actions. Learning how to communicate the harm and the danger of “casual” racist behavior to close friends and family members is especially important. Silence is dangerous because it is essentially your refusal to speak out for what is right. Psychology and African American studies scholar, Dr. Beverly Tatum has labeled this silence “passive racism” because it does nothing to oppose the racist systems and ideas around us. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, African American studies scholar and author of How to Be an Antiracist agreed stating, “The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.” Your silence and your inaction fuel the racist systems that surround us.
Although it is important to use your privilege to advocate, allyship is not about being a savior. Keeping an open mind to information that may shock you, opening your ears to voices desperately trying to be heard, and opening your arms to support those who are struggling to carry the weight of America’s racism. That is what a true ally does. You need to be motivated by the determination of those around you, not just by what seems instagramable.
On the journey of allyship, it is important to be receptive to the feedback you may receive from those you are supporting when you have made a mistake. Instead of becoming defensive and trying to argue over a history that you may not know, use this as an opportunity to expand your education. Making a mistake does not mean that your allyship is over, but instead it shows that you are human and on a path not a pedestal. Allyship is not an elevated status; it is the commitment and recognition that you need to improve day by day, by being more aware of racism in the world around you. However, after receiving a correction for your mistake, after someone has gone out of their way to educate you, it is your responsibility to implement this new knowledge into your world view.
The word “ally” can not be used to hide behind; just because you posted a black square on instagram once (#blackouttuesday) does not mean your work is done. Allyship is a way of life, not just a simple statement or single action. The journey of an ally will be difficult; there may be some detours and the road will be bumpy, but we must continue to walk together to attain justice and equality for all.