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News & Press: Advocacy

How to Become an Effective Ally

Friday, December 6, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kristin McBride
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I recently sat in on a class on community organizing at the University of Michigan. When the professor began an interesting dialogue about a diversity campaign on the campus titled "Being Black at U of M,” one of the students posed an important question: "How do I show my support of the African American community without offending anyone?”

While the LGBTQ community has done an impeccable job of identifying the need for allies, many people want to support other at-risk populations but are afraid their message may be misinterpreted. Some groups may not even be aware that there are perceived barriers between themselves and potential allies.

Similarly, allies are often unaware that there are roles and responsibilities that come with the title "ally.” So where is the handbook for wading the murky ally waters? For those citizens of privilege who want to encourage vulnerable and oppressed groups, here are some of the best ways to voice your support:

• Stand up to and for others. It is important as an ally to any minority group to voice your concern if a group is underrepresented, if a group is experiencing discrimination, or if you are able to use your privilege for good.

• Increase cultural competency. Being an ally requires a person to consistently increase their knowledge of the cause they fight for. Establishing relationships and knowing a group’s history and goals is extremely important to make change.

• Identify your privilege. Without accepting the advantages that come with membership in dominant groups, you yourself are discriminating against disadvantaged populations.

• You are not a hero. Those who are allies are there to stand next to oppressed populations, not to ride in on a white horse to save them. Being an ally is not accepting responsibilities without expecting thanks; you are doing this because it is right, not because you want praise.

• Be accepting of correction. Often, allies will do or say things that widen the divide rather than closing the gap. Be gracious when receiving criticism. No one is perfect but respect when someone tries to educate you.

• Ask how you can help. Many people have similar values and ethics as oppressed and vulnerable populations but are too afraid of offending someone to ask how they can be of use. No one knows how you will be better put to service than someone who holds membership in a subjugated group. A humble inquiry will be accepted by most at-risk groups.

While a person may be disadvantaged in one area, that same person may hold privileges in a different area. It is important to recognize the roles of an ally as those in dominant groups hold a considerable amount of power; power that will never be overcome if those with privilege do not stand as allies against social injustice. Following these six simple steps is one way a person may begin to deconstruct systems of oppression.

This article was published on December 6, 2013 in the Lansing State Journal.

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