- Eye Opening
- Concrete Examples
People who don’t experience discrimination on a regular basis themselves can be clumsy or uneasy around marginalized or discriminated members of society. For fear of doing or saying anything wrong, they often opt to do nothing. Yet people who suffer under systemic oppression welcome the support, says African American designer and entrepreneur Amélie Lamont. In an open source guide, she lays out how to stand up for people who suffer from discrimination – and invites others to add their best practices as well. Her recommendations are clear, actionable and highly useful for anybody working in diverse workplaces and communities.
- Allies take on the cause of marginalized people even if they cannot fully understand their predicament.
- Self-awareness, good listening skills and a willingness to leverage their privileged position to demand change are crucial characteristics of good allies.
- As an ally, refrain from comparisons and don’t take false credit.
- As a member of a privileged group, you will inevitably step on people’s toes. Treat these incidents as learning experiences.
Allies take on the cause of marginalized people even if they cannot fully understand their predicament.
The term ally in a context of discrimination can be misleading: It can imply that people are joining a cause that doesn’t affect them directly. In fact, taking up the cause as your own is essential. Many people consider themselves allies to people who suffer from discrimination – but then hesitate to speak up when it matters. To be an ally means to be proactive. An ally commits to the cause of the oppressed and looks for ways to engage in the struggle for equality.
“Being an ally doesn’t necessarily mean you fully understand what it feels like to be oppressed. It means you’re taking on the struggle as your own.”
You don’t need to belong to an oppressed group yourself or know exactly how discrimination makes people feel to support that cause. Anyone can become an ally: All it takes is recognition of the problem and a willingness to learn.
Self-awareness, good listening skills and a willingness to leverage their privileged position to demand change are crucial characteristics of good allies.
To grow into the role of an ally, start by being a good listener. Learn about the history of oppressed groups and develop a sensitivity toward your own unconscious biases. Then, think about how you can use your privileged position to ask for justice and change. Use other people’s feedback to improve continuously.
As an ally, refrain from comparisons and don’t take false credit.
Don’t expect others to teach you how to be an ally – find out yourself how you can be useful to the cause of others. Refrain from comparing your own struggles with those of systemically marginalized people. Don’t pretend you know better what to do than the marginalized people you are trying to help, and never take credit for victories they have achieved on their own. Also, don’t automatically assume that every member of a historically marginalized group is feeling oppressed.
As a member of a privileged group, you will inevitably step on people’s toes. Treat these incidents as learning experiences.
Being privileged is like walking around in heavy boots, while being marginalized is like wearing sandals. If you step on the toes of someone wearing sandals without noticing, don’t become defensive. Acknowledge the person’s pain without blaming the victim or withdrawing. Ask the person about how he or she is feeling and learn from the experience. Apologize sincerely, and modify your future behavior accordingly.
About the Author
Amélie Lamont is a Brooklyn-based digital designer and product strategist.
This document is restricted to personal use only.