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Just because we may not be part of a marginalized group in society does not mean that we cannot support them. So what does it mean to be an ally for these groups? Based off of the Oxford dictionary, being an ally is defined as:
Ally (verb) – to side with or support.
Ally (noun) – a person or organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity.
In my own words, being an ally is like forming a partnership with an existing institution. In other words, that institution has been there for years, they’ve created a history, and accepted your membership and support.
Being an African American woman, I have had the chance to talk to students in the black community at my university to discuss what we, as a community, think a productive ally is. We realized that we want as many people involved as possible when we feel passionate about certain issues that affect us. We also want our allies to feel comfortable in supporting us, but we definitely want to be represented in a positive light. We want to be spoken with, not spoken for.
Faster progress is made when multiple people stand up for an issue. Being an ally allows people to support these groups and their quest for equal treatment and rights. The more equality everyone achieves, the healthier society becomes. It’s nice to have certain privileges and unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and it would be even nicer if everyone could indulge in them.
You may find an organization or community that you want to support. The very first step is to understand their purpose. Answer questions like: Who is this group? Why are they fighting for change? Why do they need change? What makes this group disadvantaged? Also, don’t be afraid to ask the organization what you can do to help. Not only will they be elated that you asked, but they will also be grateful for your support.
Every organization is unique; thus, they may need different help or resources from supporters. Some examples of call to actions may be donations of goods or money, attendance at events, speakers to elaborate on subjects, or encouragement through vocal support. Again, do not be afraid to ask how you can help. I’m positive that someone will be more than happy to explain what ways you can best support their organization and the process for doing so.
The group will understand if you are busy or have a previous engagement, but if an organization asks you come to an event to show your support, try to make an effort to be there for them. Sometimes it may take some courage, and that particular group will understands that more than anything else, since it takes courage for a group to rally, but know that your support and presence means the world to them.
As an ally, there are opportunities to spread the word about a cause to a wider group of people. Some people may not be aware of a particular group’s plight or fully understand the issues at hand until they become an ally. Therefore, allies can provide a unique perspective for a particular group’s cause as well as explain to others why a particular cause is important, why it should be supported, and why everyone should be entitled to those liberties.
You may be a good ally, but speaking with the organization will make you a great ally. Of course, it is useful to learn from members of the organization about why they are fighting for a particular cause, but it is more impactful sometimes to hear it from a supporter. An ally, who is not directly affected by a particular issue, can provide compelling reasons to others about why they should also support the group. An ally can express empathy for the group’s cause and encourage the rest of the audience to join in support.
Using appropriate word choice when speaking with certain groups is important. You should use the same terminology as the group, with the exception of adding why you feel the way you do, personally, as an ally. Try not to speak about the disadvantages of the group, as the group’s testimonies will already provide insights into the issues that they face. It would be better as an ally to discuss why and how to fix the specific issue being addressed. The only time it may make sense to bring up the group’s disadvantages are if you are the only representative, but even in this situation you should not dwell on them and focus on the specific issue at hand.
You are a great person for putting the needs of others before your own. And you may want to share your support of the organization with everyone. Of course the group will thank you for your contributions, but know that not everyone will understand the newfound cause you support. Don’t worry, that group has experienced this as well, and that’s okay. Don’t be deterred and know that you will be able to spread the message and inform many people around you.
Being a productive ally is an important role in helping the organization or group that you support. Supporting causes for equal rights and treatment are a natural part of social change in a society that is evolving toward inclusionary – not exclusionary – practices. The more support for these causes will help create change quicker and lead to a healthier society.
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