By Bonn Wade, LCSW
“It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. I never know what to do or say.”
I was sitting with a friend who had just shared a racist incident that had happened at work involving two people from different backgrounds. He felt badly that he froze up when witnessing a racist comment in the co-workers’ interaction. His awkwardness immobilized his ability to be of support to the person who experienced the harm or to check in with the person who inflicted said harm. He didn’t do or say anything.
Like my friend, many of us struggle with what to do in situations that involve racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination against people with disabilities, and other forms of unjust treatment. How can we become allies instead of bystanders?
According to The Anti-Oppression Network, “Allyship is . . . a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.”
What does it mean to truly be an ally to others across differences and identities? How does one actively interrupt oppression in our everyday lives when it is often unpopular to do so? Additionally, what happens once we have interrupted the oppressive behavior or incident? How do we bring about healing justice for all involved and create broader lasting change within communities, workplaces and schools?
Being an ally isn’t only about acknowledging our unearned advantages and saying all the right things to avoid hurting others. At the core, allyship is aspiring to learn about privilege, power and what it means to build authentic relationships across differences. Ultimately, allyship is about amending oppressive structures or patterns in our lives. We all need to do this work.
These ideas may prove helpful:
Start Learning! Don’t rely on others to educate you. Read up on privilege, power and identities. You might start at the Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change website.
Be Humble! You will make mistakes; others may call you out. Be reassured that trying is the important first step of being an ally. Remember, these issues are bigger than you. If we stay stuck in hurt feelings we only perpetuate oppressive behavior.
Take Action! Find ways to plug yourself in. Join local groups that are working on the issues, such as the Southwest Chicago Diversity Collaborative.
On Sat., Nov. 9, 3 to 5 p.m., I will host Solidarity 101: Allyship Across Identities, a workshop exploring intersecting systems of power and privilege, at Beverly Therapists, 10725 S. Western Ave. The interactive workshop will offer space to check our own assumptions and begin to unlearn dominant norms. We’ll begin to recognize ways we can work to identify and eliminate harmful power imbalances in our lives. There will be time for questions and discussion. Register at 773-330-2544 or www.beverlytherapists.com.
(Bonn Wade has been a social worker and therapist for 23 years and actively trains on diversity and cultural humility topics.)