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How to Stop Saying You’re an Ally, and Actually Be an Ally

Get your third eye open bro.”

“They’re just not woke.”

“Oh yeah I’m an ally.”


These are phrases which have become buzzwords in the college campus lexicon. In the era of Twitter social justice and Instagram marches, we are seeing words like “ally” or “woke” become badges of honor for people to pick up after making a Facebook post about an article they had read two minutes prior to hitting the send button. And yet, with the thousands upon thousands of blog post, online rants and accusations about having a third eye full of crust, we are still seeing very little actual civic action. Though Millennials are voting more and more and Zoomers are coming into their own, we are still seeing aggressively racist incidents on college campuses. Despite courses and books being distributed to students on how to be an ally, there is an uptick of “twitter social justice.” There is a lot of talk, but I wonder if people are actually taking what they are talking about, and putting it into action.

So, the question then presents itself. How do we act as allies? How do we properly and truly act as allies instead of just saying it as a way of gaining more clout? There are numerous ways, actually, but they are all based in action instead of just words and nicely laid out text posts.


Recognize Your Privilege

When this point is brought up, it often makes people feel uncomfortable. People don’t like to think of themselves as taking up space, but that in fact can be a detriment to others. People may often mistake this as being told they are wrong for being white, being a man, being cis-gendered, or being able bodied. But that isn’t the case. Recognizing space simply means that you are aware that whatever identities you hold do not harm your life in any way. In fact, your identities may actually improve your quality of life - whether that means having everything accessible to you or simply being able to walk in spaces without being watched over. By recognizing your privilege, you can then make yourself aware of how to use your privilege to advocate for others. That is being an ally.


Recognize the Space You Take Up

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Do you find that you are always the one who speaks? Do you feel like sometimes you’re the only one speaking? Are there times where you use resources that are not really made for you, but they’re fun and trendy? You might be taking up space. Taking up space can mean a variety of different things: not allowing others to give their perspective, always having to give your opinion first or using spaces that are typically reserved for others. A great example of this are fidget devices like fidget spinners. These were “toys” used by students who had ADD, ADHD or other attention and sensory disorders, and they were typically used to help students feel grounded and focused. They were a pretty handy tool for students who needed a little bit of help to succeed in their goals. And then they became hip. So much so it turned into an internet meme and they were actually banned from schools. Schools had to remove a helpful tool for students because there were students who had to turn it into a trend. Though this may seem like a small thing in the moment, it can actually have adverse effects.


Do Not Speak For Others

There is a time to speak. And there is a time to listen. Often when I sit in lecture and we begin talking about the oppression of marginalized groups, there is the inevitable clearing of the throat from the back of the room, “Well actually.” This is one of the most harmful things that people can do in thinking that they are being an ally. Instead of feeling the need to talk about an experience that you have never had, take a look around first. Could someone else talk about this experience? Could they talk about it with more information and authority? If not, or if you really feel the need to bring it up, I would always remind the class that we may have differing points of view. Ask the class to consider a problem or suggestion in the framework of someone who needs accommodation. Who needs financial aid? Or, who isn’t a white affluent man? These are important questions to pose, and will open up further discussion in whatever circle you’re in.  Furthermore, you are giving the opportunity to speak to people who historically have not been able to speak for themselves. As people who have egregious amounts of privilege, it can be easy to forget that just being able to speak is powerful in solidifying our personhood.


Be Open to More Education

Photo by Christin Hume via Unsplash

You don’t know everything. I don’t. They don’t. She doesn’t. We are living in a very precarious civic situation right now. Even though information in the United States is incredibly free and accessible, there are still a lot of books and article that we have not read. A trend that I have seen quite frequently is students reading a couple of articles from class and claiming that they are the most “woke” of their friends. Or if they have one marginalized identity, they feel that they can speak to, and for, everything. This logically is not the case. We cannot be all-knowing. There is always so much more to learn and think about. If you are working to be an ally for whatever reason, it should behoove you to learn and read and listen as much as you can in order to be as informed as you can. And when people ask you about something or try to correct a phrase or behavior, take the critique. Don’t react harshly or try to “cancel” them. It can be hard to take criticism. It can affect anyone’s ego. But if you are truly trying to learn how to be the most effective ally, you’ll take the suggestion and try to learn even more.


Speak Up!

Though this may be the hardest; it is one of, if not the most, important point. You need to speak out. If you see someone being targeted, speak out. If you hear someone saying something racist, speak out. You have the power and agency to speak out against hate and ignorance. If you read and talk to people, but you don’t do anything, your ally status is a moot point. No one is asking you to start a march or lead the next revolution, but even speaking out in small conversations can change the culture around you. And it is scary. Sometimes it can be nerve-wracking to speak out to your peers or loved ones. But it’s necessary. It is necessary to break the cycle of ignorance if we want to see a brighter future. We need each other to be bigger than fear and start conversations.

Maybe the reason more people don’t grow in being an ally is because they’re afraid - afraid to speak out, afraid to be wrong. Maybe they’re even afraid of finding out that they are actually perpetuating the same type of ignorance that they have been reading about. These can be valid fears, but the time of fear is over. Our nation cannot afford the right to stay afraid and comfortable. We must constantly be ready to become uncomfortable and be ready to learn and speak. It is our call as privileged individuals to use what we have been given to advocate for others. To use our voices to amplify those which have been quieted. That is true ally-ship. So read a book. It’s time to learn.

A FL native, attempting to survive the Pitt weather. If I'm not out fighting the patriarchy, I'm probably watching Classic Disney films and/or searching for some decent Latin food.
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