Being an Ally

By Julia Terhaerdt

Following the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the world broke out in outrage. It has become crystal clear that as a society, we need to do better and stop shoving our mistakes under a rug and confront them to make a change. Too long have we sat around finding ways to justify our mistakes and continuing to allow systems and people to oppress Black people. While we like to say that we live in “post-racial” America because we have laws outlawing slavery and segregation, there have been loopholes created in the law to continue to let America oppress the Black community. After hundreds of years of being treated with inequality, the result of these loopholes has become painfully evident. The truth is in the prison populations, housing, education, and so much more. It is time for the rest of us to step up as allies and stop being passive in change; after all, it will take all of us to make a difference. If you are looking for a place to start, here are just a few options that I have found to be useful:

  1. Education. I feel as if this may be one of the most crucial sides to becoming an ally. So much of this information is not taught in schools and shielded from us to make America seem like a country without flaws. It is only through education that we can truly learn that how this country runs is wrong. When you realize that you are wrong on a particular subject because you learn something new, remember that it is okay to change your opinion! That is the whole point of education. If you were not going to learn new things, it would have no point. There are many movies and TV shows to watch as well as books to read that will help to show the inaccuracies that we are taught. The movie, 13th, has been made free to watch on Netflix’s Youtube channel, so I highly recommend starting there if you are unsure. Here is a list if you are interested in checking out more options: https://www.cnet.com/news/black-lives-matter-movies-tv-shows-and-books-on-systemic-racism/
  1. Support. A key concept I have learned here is to acknowledge that we will never understand what it is like. As much as we learn about and support Black communities, we will never be able to fully grasp how it feels to be oppressed and marginalized in this country. For that reason, we should not be telling Black communities how to react or feel during this time or ever on this subject. The only thing we can do is amplify Black voices that have been silenced for so long. Part of what that means is signing petitions, writing letters to public officials, donating to organizations like Black Lives Matter, supporting Black-owned businesses, and sharing all of this with your peers. 
  1. Don’t Tokenize. Make sure that you are doing this for the right reasons. If you are reposting Black artists, for example, on your Instagram but are only doing it for the sake of not making yourself look racist, you are not doing it for the right reasons. I feel as if this takes a lot of introspection and what you really have to ask yourself here is: Why am I doing this? Be honest with yourself when you have these conversations with yourself. Would you have reposted that post if it were a few months earlier?
  1. Have Conversations. A large part of understanding these issues is to normalize the conversation about them. It may be uncomfortable to have conversations about race, but the only way to get through that discomfort is to have many conversations with many different people. Have conversations with people who agree with you, but more importantly, have conversations with those who might have opposing opinions! The more we have these conversations, the more unacceptable it becomes to have oppressive points of view.

These are some points that I have found to be helpful, but in no means is it an inclusive list. There are so many ways that you can stand up to fight injustices, and I have just found these to be good first steps. I would also like to stress that while I try hard to be an ally, I make mistakes sometimes, but what I have found is important is that I learn from them and make an effort to do better. This process won’t come without mistakes, but it takes owning up to them and doing better in the future. Finally, if you take nothing else from this article, just remember this: ally is a verb, not an adjective. You have to practice being an ally continuously. There is no point in which you have made it to the finish line, and you can sit back and call yourself an ally. You never arrive as an ally. You have to practice allyship actively.