How to Score an A in Allyship

As someone that identifies as a black, lesbian, trans nonbinary, female, I’m no stranger to allies. But for every great example of allyship I’ve witnessed, it’s safe to say I’ve seen just as many (if not more) bad examples of allyship or as I like to call it, being an “ally for show” a.k.a. performative allyship.  

But first, let’s define allyship. In a nutshell, allyship is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. It’s important to note that this isn’t self-defined work or efforts, but rather the kind of work and efforts that are recognized by those that you’re seeking to ally with. On the flip side, performative allyship is when an individual from a majority or privileged group professes their support with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people for showmanship and credit without actually doing anything to provide value or support. In other words, it’s the difference between someone actually standing up for the LGBTQ community during a heated discussion or taking part in a protest vs. keeping quiet in the moments that matter, but tweeting out “love is love” during LGBTQ Month in October for more likes. 

So if you want to take part in allyship that actually makes a difference for marginalized individuals and/or groups of people, here are 5 ways to ensure you go about it the right way:

  • Take time to really listen – no genuine understanding or true allyship can occur without the act of listening to the diverse voices you’re an ally for. So do yourself a favor and simply listen without the need to comment, ask questions or get credit for the act of listening itself. 

  • Remember it’s not about you – if at any point you find yourself seeking praise or justifying that you’re an ally, what you’re really doing is putting the spotlight on yourself and away from the real issues, actions and needs of the individuals and groups at hand. After all, allyship is not an identity, but an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group. So don’t make the mistake of making it about you instead.

  • Do the work – whether it’s attending protests, donating money to relevant organizations or simply speaking up when and where it matters most, you’ve got to be willing to DO THE WORK. That also means not only doing the work when it’s convenient for you but when you are needed most. 

  • Stay in your lane – whatever you do, don’t take advantage of your privilege by not giving credit where credit is due. What I mean by this is when you’re discussing social injustices that you didn’t experience firsthand, remember to remain objective and tell the story that needs to be told without making it your story.

  • Embrace constructive criticism – if someone from a group you’re aligned with tries to give you feedback on what could be better, don’t take it as an attack. Instead, allow yourself to be educated and look at their constructive criticism as an opportunity to help you simply become a better ally.  

Have some examples of your own to help others be a better ally? Share them in the comments below. 

For more, I recently gave a talk on allyship that can be found here.

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