Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression. For example, a white woman can learn from her experience of sexism and apply it in becoming an ally to people of colour, or a person who grew up in poverty can learn from that experience how to respect others’ feelings of helplessness because of a disability.
This is the definition of an Ally given by Anne Bishop on the Intro page of her website www.becominganally.ca . Anne Bishop is the author of a highly recommended book, On Becoming An Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People (Fernwood Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2001, Second Edition). To read the first chapter of this book, visit her website, choose Becoming An Ally (under the 2nd picture) and click on the link provided.
Bio Brief for Anne Bishop:
Anne Bishop is a community development worker and popular educator from Nova Scotia, Canada. She has also worked in the field of international development. For almost thirty years she has been part of, and worked with, many groups struggling to achieve social justice.
Are you light-skinned? Are you of European descent? Are you heterosexual? Are you from a middle or upper-class family? Are you a man? If you can answer ‘yes’ to even ONE of these questions then you have an opportunity to act as an ally who supports diversity in your workplace and community.
An ally is someone who is not only committed to social equality but someone who is willing to do the work of social justice from an informed position. People acting as Allies work to support diverse groups in our community with which they may not necessarily identify as members.
Becoming an Ally is a process that includes:
1) Defining ‘ally’ and your role as an ally
2) Choosing to be an Ally
3) Knowing what it takes to become an Ally in your community
4) Seeking out what action we can take as allies.
Question: What do you already know about the history of diversity and ally work in your community -- the obstacles, triumphs and current issues?
Answer: Knowing a group's history is important to understanding their positions and being a responsible and aware ally. Read up on the history, look up an organization's web site or stop by their office. Find resources that explain the values and goals guiding a group's efforts toward social justice.
Question: What has contributed to your interest in working as an ally? What background are you coming from? What is your social location?
Answer: Everyone has his or her own culture and cultures have a history of interaction. Research and reflection will help you to identify where you're coming from in relation to the group of people you are interested in working with. Do some research about the kind of ally this group is seeking. Reflect on what it is you hope to see develop through your efforts of support. Be sure to address the societal and personal rewards of your commitment.
Question: What is your personal connection to the group you would like to work with? Who do you already know that is a member of this group and who would you like to know? Are these members friends, co-workers or family? What kind of relationship do you have with this group and what kind of relationship would you like to have?
Answer: Finding a connection is the responsibility of the ally—it takes commitment, trust-building and initiative to develop individual connections within the group you wish to support. Understanding the goals of any movement begins with having a personal stake in its success.
• Being willing to make mistakes—and to keep on trying. Being an ally means that sometimes you don't know what it means to be an ally so you keep asking questions, keep researching on your own—keep educating yourself.
• Being willing to be uncomfortable. You may be the odd one out, but it's important to remain committed to uncovering the role you hold even if it means making a role for yourself.
• Choosing to keep confronting your own privilege. Understanding that the personal is political—meaning that all of our choices either work to support social justice or detract from it. Being conscious takes effort.