Allyship: solidarity with members of a marginalized group to which one does not belong
While most social and cultural advancements are held back by systems of oppression, constant adversity, and struggle, allyship is wholly up to you. Being an ally is not easy – it is not supposed to be – but making the decision to practice allyship takes no more than a second.
By Louise Østergaard Sørensen
In school, I was taught that if you see someone being bullied, and you choose not to act against it, it is the same as participating. How can this lesson be successfully conveyed to children when it seemingly does not apply to adults? Why has it become second nature to dismiss the struggle of others because you are not directly affected yourself? It is essential to realize that inaction means passively sustaining oppression. I realize that everyone has their own struggles and that looking beyond them may seem overwhelming. But even if you are part of a group that is subjected to systems of oppression, it does not mean that you cannot practice allyship towards others. If you are being ‘bullied’ yourself (if we stick with the above-mentioned analogy), you can still stand up for other people being bullied. Who knows, it might result in a union of solidarity, standing up against oppression, though the devil you are fighting might not have the same face.
As a woman, I have been subjected to a plethora of sexist, misogynist, and oppressive behaviors pertaining to institutionalized patriarchal norms. As a cisgender, straight, white woman, however, I need to realize that I am immensely privileged, and though I have known struggle, I cannot even begin to fathom the struggles of e.g., the LGBTI+ or BIPOC communities. What I can do is acknowledge my privilege and try to use it in the fight against social injustice.
So, that is the easy part over and done with. What now? I have asked myself that question countless times, and it is not necessarily an easy question to answer. In all honesty, I often question my allyship, question my ability to contribute to a fight I do not wholly understand, and, in effect, question myself. Even writing this article proved a great struggle for me. How do I support the community without making it about myself? How do I elaborate on my point of view without lecturing? Who am I to take up space when others need it more than I do?
Being a privileged ally offers a position of power that those you seek to support do not necessarily hold. So, if it is within your power to take the stage and grab the microphone – do it! And then pass that spotlight on to the people who need to be seen. Some of us are fortunate enough to be in this position, which is exactly why we should make use of it. Shame, restraint, and apprehension need to be shelved. But remember that you are not creating this space on behalf of anyone – it is for them. Pack away the self-gratifying savior complex and get to work.
There are various ways of going about it, whether it be on a personal, local, or global level, but even the smallest gesture is a step in the right direction. Keep at it, and we will slowly, but surely, move forward. We all have different ways of showing our allegiance, and one brand of support is not necessarily better than another. The most important part is doing something. Being an ally is about action – do not just say you are an ally, be an ally.
Call people out in your social circles. Be it family, friends, or colleagues, if anyone is exhibiting prejudiced behavior, speak up. Sometimes confronting someone you know can seem more unnerving than confronting an unknown speaker, or an idiot in the Facebook comments section, but this is part of why it is important. Make the people you care about listen. Remind yourself that a moment of discomfort does not beat a lifetime of social injustice.
Consider volunteering. At Copenhagen Pride, for instance, we are always looking for volunteers, and you never risk taking anyone’s job away from them. It could be during Pride Week, perhaps on the Saturday, thus allowing volunteers within the community to participate in the parade. Or if you are less keen on open, populated spaces, it could be sharing Pride events on your social media, distributing magazines, or perhaps offering to moderate events.
Participate in walks, talks, silent demos, loud demos, whatever is available and accessible to you. Show your support by showing up. And remember that you are there to show your support, not claim the focus – men should not walk at the front of a women’s march, cisgender straight people should not spearhead the Pride Parade, and white people should not yell the loudest at a Black Lives Matter demo. Yet, the presence and representation of many different sections of the population sends a powerful message – to quote the masterpiece that is High School Musical: “We are all in this together.”
If anyone in your social circles is part of a marginalized group, try having a conversation, listen to their story, and inquire if there is anything, they feel you could contribute with. And as always – whether it be about pronouns, consent, or questions about what you can do – if in doubt, ask. But remember to respect their boundaries. If they do not want to talk, do not. Let them initiate conversation – you are not entitled to their story, and they are not obligated to educate you. Which segues into my next point:
Educate yourself. Understanding the intersectionality of oppression, privilege and allyship can be challenging, but being an ally does not necessarily mean fully understanding what it feels like.
Read articles by, and for, people in the community, follow influencers on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, make sure your newsfeed is representative and reflects diversity. Remain critical of mainstream news media and ask yourself if they ensure visibility for all. It is amazing that you want to know more and learn more, but the ‘burden’ of acquiring knowledge should land on you – not those you seek to support.
I cannot speak on anyone’s behalf – and neither should I – but I can offer up my own perspective. Being an ally is not always easy; and I say this warily, as I do not want to unintentionally moan about the ‘struggles’ of being an ally. But when I have practiced allyship, and people have questioned my motives, called me a killjoy, and accused me of ‘ruining the evening’, I have been filled with desperation. And in those instances, it is tempting to pipe down, ignore oppressive behavior, and attempt to just fit in – because my privilege still affords me the luxury of doing so!
In those situations, I remind myself of a saying that one of my fellow feminists and I often say to one another, a saying that has fueled me on more than one occasion:
“I am not angry – I am fucking furious.”
I am an ally. And I will be damned if my insecurities – or anyone else’s – should stand in the way of that. Stay furious, keep going, and be the best ally you can be. The people we support deserve no less.