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  • Writer's pictureSavania China

What well-meaning Allies get wrong about Allyship

A lot of us what to be allies to our black and brown friends. We want to be effective allies. We really feel their pain and trauma and we want to help. But...there are some things you could be getting wrong no matter how well you mean.

So you are a white person who is angered and disappointed by the injustice and racism that is still pervasive in the workplace and in society as a whole, and you want to do everything you can to be part of the solution. You want to be an ally. And you have listened to podcasts and read all about allyship and are ready to go, ready to support your fellow black and brown colleagues or friends. That’s all commendable and welcome. Thank you for taking the first step. But you may want to take it easy after that step, it may be better for you to do a lot of walking before you can run. A lot. Not everyone is doing this allyship thing well, even those who are so woke and believe they know what to do.

Here are some of the things you may want to avoid if you want to be effective as an ally or if you want to avoid causing more trauma and pain to black and brown people.

The first thing to mention here is that no matter how shocked and appalled and horrified and outraged you are about all the injustices that black and brown people face everyday but you have only come to realise; it is better, far far better, to NOT VOICE such feelings. First, they only show how far deep in white privilege you are and secondly you make the plight of black and brown people all about you. Instead of focusing on the issue – racism – your black and brown friends must now put their own trauma aside and attend to your white guilt. That is too much to put on anyone, to expect them to manage and console you on your guilt and manage their own trauma at the same time. You can have all those feelings of horror and shock about the reality of other people, but you may want to keep them to yourself, at least for now.

Secondly, never ever compare. There is no requirement for you to relate to what your black and brown friends go through. Don’t mention that time in India when everyone stared at you or wanted to take pictures. It’s not the same. You don’t have to relate with the stories of minorities. You only have to listen. You don’t even have to say much except “I hear you”, “I don’t know what that’s like but it seems/feels ---”

Thirdly, don’t talk too much about your allyship to your black and brown friends. In fact, don’t talk about it to them at all if you can avoid it. Take time to listen. And listen. And listen again. Then have a lot of private conversations with yourself – about your own biases, prejudices, your own complicit actions or inaction. And when you want to talk loudly about allyship, have those loud conversations with your white friends and family at dinner tables. That’s where real change will come from, from talking to about it in your white circles and not from talking to black people about their trauma.

Remember, allyship is not about you. It’s not a ‘feel good’ pursuit. Humble yourself, listen, and keep walking (listening) until you are strong enough to run (talking).


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