As I think back over 2013, I’m happily overwhelmed by memories of my first year living with my partner, of incredible opportunities to collaborate with new professional colleagues, and of time with family and friends.
Standing at the margins of these memories, though, are ones that make my heart beat a little faster, that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
No, these are not necessarily memories of trauma, per se. They are memories of hurt that I have caused, of my attempts to be a good ally that ended up hurting those with whom I attempted to act in solidarity.
My heart races, in part, because I feel embarrassed and ashamed, but more so, my heart races because I know I hurt people for whom I care very much, and I have a responsibility to do better going forward.
With that in mind, I have been reflecting a lot lately on how I can be a better ally.
And as we wade our way into 2014, I suppose now is as good a time as any to consider some ways that I (and any person who wishes to act accountably as an ally) can do better in 2014.
So here’s my list of 30 ways that those of us who strive to act in solidarity and allyship (most notably inclusive of myself) can be better allies.
It can’t be said enough. The single most important thing we can do to be better allies is to listen across difference.
2. Talk Less
The other side of the coin of listening is that we can always do a better job of stepping back, asserting ourselves less into spaces, and, in doing so, allowing those to whom we ally to speak their truths.
3. Look to Amplify Rather than Overshadow
Though being a better ally can mean that we must talk less, that doesn’t mean that we ought to be in total silence.
We surely need to defer to those with whom we are acting in solidarity, but we also want to make sure that we are not leaving those to whom we want to ally ourselves to be the only ones speaking.
Thus, there are times we should be speaking up, times where we can amplify the voices of others with our collective perspectives. It’s just important to be sure we’re amplifying, not overshadowing.
4. Strive to Use More Inclusive Language
There are always ways that we can use more inclusive language as allies. I, personally, think I do a pretty good job of being inclusive, but I still find myself using ableist language like “insane” or “lame” pretty often. Thus, in working to be a better ally in 2014, I can work to be even more inclusive in my language.
5. Be Careful with Pronoun Use
Part of using inclusive language that is, unfortunately, still pretty new to a lot of people working for social justice is careful use of pronouns.
Not all people would label themselves with the gendered pronouns that you might assume for them, and some people prefer non-gendered pronouns altogether. A simple way that we can be inclusive is to offer what pronouns we prefer and ask others what they would prefer.
And try not to misgender people by assuming the pronouns that they would prefer unless you’ve heard them assert their preference.
6. Engage More People Who Share Your Identity
As allies, our primary work must be with people who share our privileged identity. Thus, the more we can work to bring people who share our identity to understand their identity and privilege and to act for justice, the better.
7. Don’t Think You’re ‘Holier Than’ Those Who Share Your Identity
I recently had a fantastic conversation with my partner, her mom, and a family friend about a really frustrating thing that we often see among White liberals: the“holier than thou” attitude.
As our primary responsibility as allies is to challenge and bring into the fold those who share our identity, calling people out with no desire to call them in or to engage them or others in dialogue or action toward justice is just lazy, faux activism. Stop it.
8. Cite Your Sources
Whether discussing the origin of a hashtag or referring to a complex theory or idea, if you’re a person of privilege, you have a responsibility to cite your sources.
In the age of the Internet, it can be pretty easy to pass off anything and everything as our own (whether intentionally or out of laziness), but we need to be clear where our ideas are coming from.
If we’re talking about oppression and we’re not oppressed, the ideas aren’t ours. Cite them.
9. Self-Reflect More
Simple. Pretty much everyone of any identity could use more time for both critical and loving self reflection in a society that encourages us constantly to be engrossed in exterior input.
But for people of privilege who want to be allies, it is particularly important that we build into our lives ways to consider our own identity and its impacts on others and how we can more fully live in our values.
10. Interrogate Why You’re Striving to Be an Ally
As part of this self-reflection, it is important to ask why you’re striving to be in solidarity with oppressed people across difference.
Are you doing it because you want to “save” others or “use your privilege” to help someone? Or are you striving for solidarity because, in the words of Lilla Watson,“your liberation is bound up with” those with whom you ally yourself?