University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Show Up: Become an Ally

“Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression. For example, a white woman can learn from her experience of sexism and apply it in becoming an ally to people of color, or a person who grew up in poverty can learn from that experience how to respect others’ feelings of helplessness because of a disability.”

This definition is from Anne Bishop, author of  On Becoming An Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People (Fernwood Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2001, Second Edition).

Most people are familiar with active oppression (laughing or telling jokes about certain groups of people, verbal/physical harassment, gay-bashing and other forms of violence) but indifference and lack of action are also important factors that enable oppression. For example, if  you passively accept or choose not to confront the bias behavior of others, avoid people who are different from you, or don't participate in certain activities for fear of being associated with a particular group, you might not be engaging in active oppression, but you are passively enabling oppression to continue.

Becoming an Ally

  1. Understand the Issues
    Educating yourself about a group's history is important to understanding the context of their current issues. Study history, look up an organization's website or stop by their office. Find resources that explain the values and goals guiding a group's efforts toward social justice.
  2. Understand Yourself
    Everyone has his or her own identity and culture. Do some research to help understand what this group wants and needs from you as an ally. Understand what kind of relationship you currently have with this group and identify what kind of relationship you would like to have. Reflect on what outcomes you hope to see through your support.
  3. Build Relationships 
    An ally is responsible for finding a connection and reaching out to build relationships. Make a commitment to build trust, listen, and take initiative to develop individual connections within the group you wish to support. Understand that the goals of any movement begin with understanding your own personal stake in its success. 

“The purpose of freedom is to free another.”
– Toni Morrison