Not so long ago, our Instagram feeds were flooded with black squares in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests taking place in the United States against police brutality. But a month later, social media has largely gone back to radio silence, even as protests are still happening and new police brutality cases continue to come to light. This isn’t uncommon; often there’s an uproar about an issue, it starts trending and everyone starts posting about it. But then the conversation dies and something else starts trending. While social media is a great tool to spur social change and spread information, it has also led to a climate infested with performance activism – the act of engaging in activism or allyship for the sole reason of increasing your social standing.
It’s easy to fall in that trap in today’s digital age, but performative activism takes away the platform for real issues to be highlighted and discussed, reducing them to a “trend.” And while raising awareness through your social media platform is great, it’s important to ensure that it doesn’t just end there. Being an ally is not easy work, and it’s much easier said than done. Nonetheless, it is important to step up and learn how to help. Here’s a starter guide to becoming a better ally:
Understand What An Ally Is
Being an ally means a multitude of things. It’s amplifying the voices of those who are actively silenced. It’s using your privileges to help others. It’s making the effort to educate yourself. In short, it’s taking on the struggles of the oppressed as if they are your own. In a system geared against certain groups of people, your position as an ally is powerful in uplifting these communities and shouldering their burden. You may never understand their experiences, and that’s okay to admit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand with them.
What Can You Do As An Ally
Besides donating, sharing information and/or signing petitions, there’s still a lot you can and should be doing as an ally. Be open to listening to others’ experiences. Recognise that you may benefit from a system that works to oppress others based on their race, gender, sexuality or religion. Understand that while there’s a lot to learn, there’s also a lot to unlearn. Stand up when you see someone engaging in derogatory behaviour. Educate your loved ones. The most important thing, however, is to acknowledge that the work of an ally is continuous. It doesn’t stop after one petition or one conversation – change doesn’t come overnight.
What You Shouldn’t Do As An Ally
Don’t make it about yourself, whether it’s through downplaying someone else’s struggles by comparing your own to it, or centring the conversation around how you feel about an issue. As an ally, the attempt should always be to keep the focus on the issue and the people. Don’t expect to be taught by marginalised groups about their history or how to help them. While this may be well-intentioned, it is an added emotional labour to oppressed communities. You can do this work yourself by reading books, watching documentaries and using Google to access other forms of educational material. And lastly, never act as though you know someone’s experience better than they do.
What To Do When You Make A Mistake
As humans, we’re all bound to make mistakes. We come ingrained with implicit biases, taught to us over time by our loved ones, our peers and by the media we consume. You will succumb to these biases sometimes. You will also have moments where you won’t understand what you’ve done wrong. You should be prepared to stumble, but with that you should also be prepared to listen, apologise, acknowledge your mistake and implement changes within yourself to do better. All it requires is being able to admit when you’ve made a mistake and be willing to fix it, instead of becoming defensive and turning a blind eye to anything that doesn’t match with your perspective.
Understanding Your Role In The Systems Of Oppression
Whether voluntarily or not, we all have a part to play in oppressive systems. Part of being an ally is becoming more self-aware and recognising how you benefit from, contribute to or tolerate these systems. It is not possible to be a true ally without understanding your role in enabling and perpetuating systemic oppression. You can only start to work to dismantle these systems when you understand your role within them.
Being an ally requires empathy and compassion, both for yourself and for those you are supporting. It requires that you recognise the ugly parts of society that are instilled in you. It requires you to get into uncomfortable situations and conversations. Being an ally is much more than a single Instagram post. It is a long, hard, continuous journey, but it is never a bad time to start it.