What Is An Ally? – Part 1
I am not someone who can answer this question because I am part of the majority in America. I am a white male, of Christian heritage, of heteronormative identity, and of neurotypical orientation, – the definition of the majority in America – who has benefitted greatly because of those traits. It does not matter that I have had my struggles or that I can empathize with those who have been subjected to racism – overt, covert, systemic, institutional, or otherwise – I cannot understand that experience and if I cannot understand that experience, I cannot define the traits needed in someone who can help aid in the fight against the people and systems which create that experience.
I am not someone who can answer this question because I have to ask it. I do so earnestly as I have known for some time that I am privileged. I did nothing to earn it; it is circumstantial. Unlike many white people I have spoken with about the topic of privilege, I do not feel guilty about it, but rather, I feel a sense of obligation to do something with it. As such, what follows the takeaways given to me through discussions I had over the three days I attended the Association of Social Work Boards 2022 Annual Delegate Assembly.
Allies Are Identified
I learned in seeking an answer to the question that, like a nickname, one does not give oneself the moniker “ally.” No, it is a title given. One does not decide to call oneself an Ally, but one’s actions are what call allyship to the attention of others. Often, I have witnessed others brandishing the word on a t-shirt or some other piece of apparel; I found this discomforting. It is not because allyship is quiet – it is anything but – however, the act of advertising it seems to bring the proclamation into question. If one were to wear a shirt that said “hard worker,” it seems an inevitable retort would be “show me.”
The giving and open people of whom I asked this question shared with me that one key cue of allies is easy to spot, simply because it is action. Allies act. Allies act in opposition to what may feel comfortable in a moment. Allies act in stopping racism when they encounter it, be it verbally, physically, politically, etc. They do not talk about acting without backing it up. Allies do not consider the audience when they act, wondering who is watching or will bear witness to their good works. No. Rather, an ally “does the thing” without question. “Don’t tell me, show me” was a consistent theme throughout my conversations.
Allies are Congruent
Much has been written about the duplicitous nature of humans. Two-faced, Jeckyl and Hyde..whatever we call it, it is often incongruent. This is not the same as duality (the different “sides” we each have), rather, it is about consistent action and presentation. An ally “shows up” as the same person regardless of the environment and the circumstances do not dictate their behavior. This is not the same as “having manners,” rather it is about maintaining allyship regardless of place and setting and it doesn’t waver.
I can’t capture all the answers I received to this question in a single post. Clearly, whole books could be written (and have been) about the topic. However, the answers to this question – from these women – deserve to be shared and will be in a series of posts and thought exercises in the coming weeks. Needless to say, I feel indebted to those who heard my question as I intended it and honored me with their answers.