“It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. I never know what to do or say.” I was sitting in a café talking with a friend. He had just shared an incident that had happened at work involving two people of different identities. He felt badly that he froze up when witnessing a racist comment in the co-workers interaction. His experience of awkwardness immobilized his ability to be of support to either the person who experienced the harm or offer a space to process to the person who inflicted said harm. He didn’t do or say anything that day.
Like my friend, many of us struggle with how to interrupt situations that involve racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism among many other forms of oppression. What does it mean to truly be an ally to others across differences and identities? How does one actively interrupt oppression that pops up within ourselves, 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?
According to The Anti-Oppression Network, “Allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.” (You can read more here: Allyship)
Being an ally isn’t about confessing our privileges 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 difference. Ultimately, amending oppressive structures (or patterns) in our lives. We all need to do this work.
Check out these initial ideas. They may prove helpful! 1. Start Learning! Don’t rely on others to educate you. Read up on privilege, power, and identities. You might start here: Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change or here: Highlander Center.
2. 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.
3. Take Action! Find ways to plug yourself in. Join local groups that are working on the issues. Check out the Southwest Chicago Diversity Collaborative!
These are some basic things to begin your journey to interrupting oppressive behaviors in yourself and with others. And this is what I shared with my friend in the café that day. We continue to have conversations and encourage each other to do the work of interrupting oppression in ourselves, and our communities. If you would like to continue to learn the basics, check out a local workshop I will be leading in November hosted by Beverly Therapists called “Solidarity 101: Allyship Across Identities.”. This workshop will explore intersecting systems of power and privilege. It 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. Through video and a brief exercise, this workshop aims to be interactive and will have room for questions and discussion. It’s being held at Beverly Therapists, 10725 S. Western Avenue on Saturday November 9, 3pm to 5pm.
Please RSVP to: Bonn Wade, 773-330-2544 or here.
Learn more about the author of this post: Bonn Wade, LCSW