How To Be an Ally Without Overstepping

February is Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the great and varied accomplishments of African Americans. This is a time when black people celebrate their heritage and all that they’ve overcome. Of course, people of different ethnicities are welcome to celebrate as well, but there is a very fine line to tread. Everyone can be an ally, not an appropriator, and here are some tips on doing this.

  1. 1. Be aware of your own identity.

    If you are not black, remember you are not black. If you are not a woman, realize you are not a woman. On a basic level, everyone is human. Put two people in a room and they’ll find something they can relate with. But on a more complex level, everyone has been through different experiences based on their identities and background. A white man and a black man haven’t had the same experiences, and even a black woman and a black man don’t have the same experiences. You may think that you understand how people of other identities feel about something, but you probably don’t get it on every single level.

  2. 2. Don’t overstep your boundaries.

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    Something that goes along with knowing your identity is realizing that it comes with certain social restrictions. If you aren’t Native American, don’t dress up in a feathered headdress. If you aren’t black, don’t say the n-word. If you aren’t Latinx, don’t wear sombreros and ponchos. There are certain polite social constructs that are followed in the interests of making everyone feel comfortable. Don’t overstep your boundaries and say something that is offensive.

  3. 3. Don’t pretend to know everything.

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    While we’re all alike on a basic level, as I stated earlier, everyone has had different experiences in their lives. Your identity and how you present yourself to the world greatly influence these experiences. This means that white people have had a vastly different life experience than people of color, for example. And this means that there shouldn’t be any assumptions made about the lives or experiences of people of different identities. A white person acting like they have the inside knowledge that a person of color has is a major overstepping of the boundaries that I mentioned earlier.

Ultimately, the best way to go about dealing with sensitive experiences surrounding race is to be empathetic and to defer to those who know more than you. Collaboration and kindness are the only ways all people can work on overcoming racial divides and foster an open and honest conversation regarding race.