By Maiah Cooper
“We ask you not for an invitation to your rallies and to sit at your tables, we ask you not to save us, but to back us up . . . . Or get the hell out of the way.”Xhopakelxhit
The global pandemic has forced us all to marinate in the lives we once lived, the norms we upheld and the behaviours we tolerated. Now more than ever we are compelled to face the realities of the pernicious systems in which we live and the extent to which they affect us all, especially minority groups. As various issues and recounts of tribulations are highlighted through mass media we must be aware that these problems did not occur in isolation but simply put under a microscope by the constraints of the pandemic. Despite the pain that these messages carry, there has been a new sense of awakening that has persons to raise the question “How can I help?” Individuals have taken up the task to become allies to communities that need more support and elevation, however, allyship is a term that has been used by many but comprehended by few.
Allyship is the continuous practice of advocacy, solidarity and support for a disadvantaged group within society by a person in a position of privilege. The plights of minority groups are often perceived as natural and immutable but the inequalities that they face are debilitating and harmful to their livelihood. Allyship serves to amplify these issues while highlighting the group’s personal agency and value. Some of these groups include disabled persons, indigenous communities, persons of African descent, LGBTI+ community, Atypical persons, women etc. Since allyship is a verb, it is not a title one holds but the ongoing actions that one engages in their daily lives that are beneficial to the group being assisted. These actions involve initiatives rooted in socio-political analysis, an examination of privilege and the evaluation of traditional and modern systems of oppression with the aim of achieving systemic change, whether it be improved or dismantled. Despite the purpose of an ally being clear, the role you play in partnership with different groups depends on their unique needs and agenda. Allyship will not always be easy and mistakes will be made along the way, however, it is how you choose to correct it and move forward.
When allyship is genuine and driven by meaningful action it can reap notable impact but when this is not maintained it becomes harmful to both the disadvantaged group and the goal of systemic equity. As an ally, the majority of your time is spent listening to the needs of the group. If this is not facilitated, as a person in a position of privilege, the demands of the group can be easily overshadowed by self-appointed leadership and control. This not only undermines the issue at hand but perpetuates the assumption that the privileged individual is more capable and worthy of leading. Amidst the ruthless murder of George Floyd (may his soul rest in peace) individuals around the world stood in solidarity through protests, spreading awareness and boycotting complicit corporations. This collective awareness of police brutality and the law enforcement’s abuse of power was commendable, however, it was followed by significant amounts of performative activism. The generational fight for equity is not the arena through which a person with privilege can redeem themselves or uphold their inconsequential reputation. These actions trivialise the groups’ afflictions and expose the extent to which they fail to understand the groups’ lived reality. Allyship is not something you use to raise social media insights and then discard it when it does not fit your feed’s aesthetic. This luxury is not afforded to disadvantaged groups as their oppression cannot be turned off. Inequality and injustices do not cease to exist when it is out of our purview. Until equity and inclusivity are achieved, the pervasiveness of societal prejudice will continue to affect the lives of every member within a minority group.
Furthermore, allyship should not be the space in which internalised guilt and privilege is negotiated. Guilt is only felt when an individual’s actions or the lack thereof highlights their own culpability. An ally who fails to address their privilege simply becomes a paradox. It is impossible to advocate for issues without knowledge of the role that you or your in-group play. Acknowledging one’s privilege is not an easy task as the concept itself blinds one from even knowing it exists. An individual must do the active work to analyse their privilege, whether it be race, sexual orientation or social class, and understand that the capacity of an ally incorporates disrupting said privilege. “If I participate, knowingly or otherwise, in my sister’s oppression and she calls me on it, to answer her anger with my own only blankets the substance of our exchange with reaction,” (Lorde, 2007).
It is equally important to note that unchecked privilege can leave minority groups exposed to further harm and discrimination. This is done by engaging in activities and behaviours that are not harmful to the person of privilege but places the members of the group in a vulnerable position. Assistance will always be necessary except when it becomes ineffective and damaging.
How to Be a Supportive Ally?
- Address privileges & biases– A large percentage of individuals live with some form of privilege such as being cisgender, white, able-bodied or a man. This does not remove the existence of personal struggles but acknowledges the opportunities you are afforded and its absence for minority groups. Also, one might not be aware of how harmful certain behaviours and microaggressions can be when biases go unchecked.
- Educate yourself & others– To truly gain an understanding of the changes you are advocating for you must first understand the experiences, history and identities of the individuals you are fighting with. Keep updated with issues affecting disadvantaged groups within your country and the initiatives being conducted to assist. Ensure that you remain open to new concepts and perspectives as there is no limit to knowledge. When you become more educated you are now in a position to correct individuals when they spread misinformation that perpetuates discrimination. By remaining educated and confronting one’s privilege it can now be leveraged for further assistance.
- Listen– Pay attention to the stories members of groups share and trust their experiences. Listen to what is being said by minority groups both online and offline while amplifying their voices. Create a space in which individuals can safely express their grievances and make note of the pronouns and language group members use to describe themselves.
- Speak Up & Be Visible– Call persons out for any derogatory or discriminatory actions within your everyday lives. Make an effort to have open discussions surrounding current issues and the lack of frameworks in support of minority groups and possible steps to be taken. Ensure that your assistance is visible to members of the group in question and not only persons within your spaces. This can be done by attending events for said groups, promoting initiatives and supporting charities and organisations aligned with the cause.
- Avoid stereotypes and the construction of preconceived notions.
- Always be conscious of the safety and confidentiality of group members.
Allyship may seem complex but these strategic moves are the catalyst for systemic reform and concrete change. “When I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives,” (Lorde, 2007).
List of some Regional Organisations that assist Minority Groups:
- Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition
- The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights
- Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity & Equality (ECADE)
- The Commonwealth Equality Network
- Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- The Shelter (T&T)
- CAISO: Sex & Gender Justice
- Transwave Jamaica
- Transgender Coalition of T&T
- The Silver Lining Foundation
Droogendyk, L., Wright, S., Lubensky, M. and Louis, W., 2016. Acting in Solidarity: Cross-Group Contact between Disadvantaged Group Members and Advantaged Group Allies. Journal of Social Issues, 72(2), pp.315-334.
Lorde, A., 2007. Sister Outsider : Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press.
Russell, G. and Bohan, J., 2016. Institutional Allyship for LGBT Equality: Underlying Processes and Potentials for Change. Journal of Social Issues, 72(2), pp.335-354.