An ally is someone who supports a marginalized group they are not a part of. They listen to what is being said, they lift up the voices of those who have been silenced, and they fight for what is right, advocating for justice and helping to make the world a more inclusive place. They recognize their privilege and use it in a way to promote equality and bring attention to major issues. Allies are human like everyone else, and they will make mistakes. Good allies work to correct those mistakes and learn from them, apologizing in a way that validates the feelings of those they hurt and moving on to do better in the future.
If you consider yourself an ally to any marginalized group, you probably know some of the many struggles these groups face on a day to day basis. You’ve heard their stories about discrimination, prejudice, and hate. They deal with the internal biases of most of the population, and even outright violence from some. They face invalidation and harsh judgement, often from the people they care about the most. Anyone who has to handle these sorts of things on such a constant level is bound to have some pent up anger and frustration, both at their situation and the people who put them there. It is a natural and normal response to oppression. Marginalized groups are justified in their anger, and questioning or discouraging the expression of those feelings is something called “tone policing,” and causes more harm than good. Yes, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar, but minority groups have faced enough hardship that to invalidate their anger is akin to invalidating their experiences.
Intersectionality is important to address here, because it shows us all of the different ways in which people can be oppressed or privileged. It is not a dichotomy or a hierarchy. A straight white man could be disabled or be part of a religious minority. A queer black woman could be extremely wealthy. There is no ultimate ranking system here. Whatever issue has the spotlight, allies need to use their privilege to assist the cause and highlight the voices of the oppressed (without speaking over them). Working together is the best way to move forward.
As I mentioned, allies make mistakes sometimes. They could say something offensive, accidentally talk over someone, give false or misleading information, or give too much merit to oppressive ways of thinking. If someone is a true ally, they make these mistakes unintentionally. However, impact is greater than intent. No matter how well meaning you were, if you made a mistake, you caused some damage. It is time to listen and learn. Depending on what mistake was made, one or people who were affected could get upset with you. They could be angry, they could yell, they could express real hurt, and this is perfectly valid. It’s not going to feel nice, but the last thing you want to do is go on the defensive. If you’ve misgendered a trans person on accident and they get upset, think about where they are coming from – they could’ve been misgendered repeatedly that day, or had a difficult interaction with an unsupportive family member. Your intentions don’t seem so important when you consider the impact your mistake had on them. If you use a racial slur that you didn’t know was a slur and someone gets mad at you, think about the effect you had on them – maybe that word was used to belittle them throughout their childhood, and you’ve accidentally reminded them of all those hard times. Whether you meant to or not, you hurt them and they have every right to be mad.
Unfortunately, I see a lot of fair-weather allies floating around out there. A fair-weather ally’s main motivation for supporting marginalized groups is to get a pat on the back from others. They want to seem like a benevolent superior, who is “woke” and progressive, but when things get messy, they threaten to abandon the cause all together because people got angry with them. Fair-weather allies hear the angry words and think only of themselves. They tell the marginalized person that their anger is only going to turn people off from supporting their cause, implying that the only reasons they deserve justice and equality are their attitude and good manners. If you were truly an ally because you believe that all people deserve support and validation, you would understand the anger. You would listen. You would do something to make amends, not go on the defensive and make threats.
Mistakes are human, but if you’re called out, be careful not to react with an inhumane response. We can all learn and grow. Do not let your fortress of privilege prevent you from dealing with the feelings of the marginalized people you support. Provide a platform, educate others like yourself, and most importantly – listen.