An ally “describes someone who supports a group other than one’s own (in terms of racial identity, gender, faith identity, sexual orientation, etc.) Allies acknowledge disadvantage and oppression of other groups than their own; take risks and supportive action on their behalf; commit to reducing their own complicity or collusion in oppression of those groups and invest in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression” as defined by the Center for Assessment and Policy Development.
I am a white female, she, her who grew up in a small rural town of about 500 people south of Buffalo, NY. My town was composed of all white people. As a child I remember feeling confused by the words and actions of my father. He would say racist words and names. Yet when he talked with a person of color he was kind, respectful, polite. My eyes began to open in my middle school years when I purchased a Scholastic book, and still have today, called “Lots of Love Lucinda” by Bianca Bradbury. It is the story of a negro (the terminology used in the book) girl from the south who went to live with a white family in the north during high school. My journey in understanding myself, white privilege and racial inequality had begun. I was not a person who did not see color. I was a person who did not understand why a person was treated differently because of the color of their skin. I didn’t get it.
In my mid twenties I moved to Atlanta, GA. I remember getting off an exit and seeing the Ku Klux Klan with signs by a red light. My employment was at a non-profit, an EOA, that included a head start program and an employment program. There was about 50 employees who worked there. Three employees were white, two were Pakistan, and the remaining employees were black. Whenever anyone found a stray pet I was the go to person to find it a home. I was told for a white person I was ok. The townhouse where we lived had a lesbian couple on one side and a bi-racial couple on the other. In my friendships with people of color and who are lesbian I did not think about the inequities they experienced because of the color of their skin or sexual orientation. I still did not get why people were treated differently. Isn’t everyone supposed to be treated with respect, dignity, and compassion?
I ended up going to college at the University of Georgia for my Master’s Degree in Social Work. My class was racially diverse and people had a plethora of life experiences. I remember one day in a class when we were watching a film, and the class laughed at a part. I do not recall the film. Our professor stopped and asked why we had laughed. I had laughed because it was funny. What if I had laughed at something that should not be laughed at? This simple question lead to a powerful, intense, courageous conversation between myself and all of my classmates. This conversation helped open my eyes to the experiences of my classmates of color. Taking that moment to see the world through the experiences of others began my understanding of white privilege, racial inequality, and sexual orientation. Shortly after that class when having dinner with the bi-racial couple next door they shared that his mom (he was white) had cut off contact with them because his wife was black. A few weeks after that the lesbian couple shared some horrible experiences that had happened to them because of their sexual orientation. As my understanding began to change, my conversations with friends and co-workers began to change. I became a better listener and better at asking people what their life experiences were like. I began to realize the framework from which I viewed the world and people in it was based on my white privilege.
Since those experiences I have continued my education to better understand about privilege, inequalities, discrimination. I read, watch documentaries, listen to TED talks, and go to workshops. I also have worked at is being an ally. Years ago when someone would say something that demeaned a race, gender, religion, sexual orientation I would sit in my uncomfortable silence, because I did not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, even though inside of me I would be screaming that is wrong. My next step in my process of becoming an ally was I did not want to say the “wrong” thing to someone who was putting someone else down. What was holding me back from speaking up was my fear. I began to speak up being forthright, direct, and compassionate in my conversation. As an African Proverb states “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” As uncomfortable as it was for me I needed to work towards a solution that supported respect, honor, and decency for all. My silence made me part of the problem. Speaking up helped me become part of the solution.
While I was doing all of those things, one thing I had not done, was to reach out to my friends in marginalized communities when horrific high-profile acts of violence and killings happened to see how they were doing. I spent time reading on how to be a helpful, effective, ally and read the part about checking in on friends when a high-profile tragedy occurs. I have never done that. Ever. Yet if a horrific event happened directly to any of my friends directly I would reach out. Why not for this? Too often in the past I sat in silence not checking in on my friends to see how they were doing. To offer my support. To say I am hear for you in whatever way it means. Until yesterday. I sent texts to all of my friends of color to check in on them. To be there for them. To say I care and I am here for you if you need anything.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” Martin Luther King Jr.
Dear wonderful person who you are matters. I urge every single one of you to be an ally, to show support for marginalized groups by your words and actions. We can make this world a more loving, caring, place. We can create a world where diversity is embraced and there is equality for all. Let our words and actions demonstrate the love inside us to drive out the hate.
May your allyship be with you💜