As a black muslim woman, I’ve had people who claim to be allies but all they really wanted was to save me from something or somehow be my hero. It’s really easy to go from wanting to be in solidarity with marginalized and oppressed groups to wanting to be the savior, especially when we use the word ally as an identity. This made me realize that I might be this type of ally to people in other communities that I am not apart of.
So what is the right way to being in solidarity with marginalized groups without taking over their voice and space? I talked to some of my peers to see how they are an ally to themselves first and then how they are in allyship with other people in the LGBTQ+ community. Here are three steps that I came up with after talking to them that you can take to be in solidarity and show your support.
1. Be willing to listen and learn
Being in allyship with yourself can come in many different forms and for Nia, it is taking it one step at a time. Knowing that there is a community of people who have similar experiences as her is reassuring. Being in a community, learning from others that hold the same identities as you and learning more about yourself is an act of allyship. Although having allies who are not part of the community alongside you is helpful at times, it is not a need. What is a need is learning how to be an ally to yourself and empowered within your identities.
Even within spaces that hold the same identities it’s important to listen and learn. As a black girl, when I’m in spaces created for people of color, I remind myself that even though we have similar experiences, we also have different ones. Recognizing and respecting those differences make the space safe for everyone. So when I’m in a space created for people in my community and other communities that I’m not a part of, I do my best to show the same respect I want in when I’m in spaces created for me. The most helpful way for me to do this is by reminding myself that just because I don’t see it, I don’t hear it, or it does not happen to me does not mean it does not happen at all.
2. Educate yourself and start by listening to the people around you
Being an ally is a responsibility. As an ally, you are responsible for educating yourself, doing your research and listening to diverse voices.
Our individual experiences and different identities are interconnected in order to make us who we are. Lily works in allyship with the LGBTQ+ community by educating herself and really understanding the issues that matter to the community. She uses her shared experiences she has with people in the community to connect and further educate herself on experiences they might have that differ from hers.
As a person of color, what Lila needs from her allies is support, so she strives to be supportive of other marginalized groups in return. She recognizes that different allies provide different types of support and together they can make a difference.
3. Advocate and make space without taking over
There is no one way to be an ally. Allyship can be about taking action and speaking up, but it can also be about simply showing up. The important thing is knowing when to be vocal and loud about your support and when to step back and make space for people you are standing in solidarity with. When in spaces created for marginalized groups you are not apart of, you can be an ally by not taking any leadership positions and still be supportive. Be present physically to take action without taking away the space and voices of marginalized people. This is a good time to pass the mic.
It is important to be aware that an ally is not another word for hero. When I’m in spaces created for my community, I expect allies who show up to be ok with assisting in the background and let the people in that community lead. As an ally to other communities I have the same expectations for myself. My job is to educate myself, listen to the experiences and needs of the people I’m standing in solidarity with, and be supportive in ways that actually help them. This can be as simple as showing up to an event geared towards people in the LGBTQ+ community and helping to pass out pamphlets or just to listen and learn.
An example of moving through all three steps is through school club collaborations. A great way to do this is school clubs collaborating to organize events and bringing the different identities of people together in one place. Having clubs like the Black Student Union and Gender and Sexuality Alliance clubs in school is important in order to create a safe space and community for people who identify with those groups. Bringing both groups together can be important for those communities to come together because our different identities intersect. Also to acknowledge students that identify in both communities that need your allyship.
What are ways that you’ve seen the three steps the author laid out take place in your school environment?
What are the steps that you are going to take personally to be in solidarity with those that don’t hold the same identities as you?
What are action steps that your GSA can create solidarity with other clubs in your school?