So you wanna be an ALLY? contributed by Crystal Gurney

So you wanna be an ALLY? Awesome! FYI, you are totally going to fuck up at some point. We all do. I wish someone had better prepared me for HOW to move through a screw-up.

I recently tried to put some words together to offer help to someone who thought they were being an ally, but when they messed up, it really made things even worse. I’ve edited a bit to take out specifics from that situation and am sharing here what I wish someone would have told me when I very first started to become aware of my privilege and had a desire to be an ally.

  • Firstly: if you were raised in the United States, you were raised with, steeped in, and spoon-fed healthy doses of racism, sexism, heteronormativity, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, misogyny, and patriarchy. Full stop. I won’t argue this. Even if your parents were super progressive, even if your mom used a wheelchair, even if you were raised by 2 dads, even if you are gay, or brown, or disabled yourself. Our culture and country and systems serve up ALL the “isms” on the regular and every one of us has internalized some or all of them.
  • We’ll never be fully rid of these things. There is no ultimate state of “wokeness”. Even after we start unpacking our privilege and peeling back the layers of these things, we will still (and likely always) hold prejudices and bigotry and we will need to continually unpack and work on these things until we die. If you ascend to Buddha status at some point, come talk to me and I might amend this.
  • This means that even THE BEST and MOST WOKE allies will screw up. We’ll say something racist or sexist or ableist, or use a term we didn’t realize is harmful, or in some way, cause harm.

SO. WHAT DO WE DO WHEN THIS HAPPENS?

  • There can be a lot of shame and embarrassment when we mess up. We want to explain and not be thought of as racist, sexist, etc. Don’t let that rule your reactions. We can stop and breathe and try to minimize further harm/impact, and make a choice to learn.
  • Yes, the impact of your comment/action was harmful. It doesn’t mean you are a terrible person.
  • A quick explanation of impact vs. intent: many times we don’t *intend* to cause harm. But the harm IS done and that’s the *impact*. Impact is more important than intention. Let’s say you and I are hanging out and I start dancing around and waving my arms in the air. I accidentally dance into you and one of my flailing hands hits you in the face and hurts you badly. Was my *intention* to hurt you? Nope. But the *impact* of my action DID hurt you. And I should acknowledge that rather than just saying “I didn’t meant to!!” over and over and trying to explain to you why it was a happy dance and you just don’t understand what I was doing.
  • Acknowledging the impact is the first step. “My comment really landed wrong. I can see that it is causing harm.” (No need to explain your intentions, remember that part is less important than impact)
  • The next step is doing what you can to make the repair. “I’ll edit my post right away to correct the mistake I made.”
  • After that asking “Is there anything else I can do to make this right? Are there any resources you might recommend to help me learn more so I can be a better ally in the future?” (please note that the wounded person or marginalized folks do not OWE you a response or additional labor, but they might be willing, or other allies might be able to help)
  • GO DO THE LEARNING to understand what you got wrong. Google is your friend.
  • It is NOT ignorant to admit that you aren’t well informed on a topic and recognize there is more for you to learn. It is VERY ignorant to refuse to acknowledge this.
  • A quick explanation of the concept of “centering”: who is at the heart of the issue or topic? This is who should be centered. This means their feelings, voices, words, etc. should take top priority and be the “center” of the discussion.
  • If you are spending more time trying to explain and justify your harmful comments/actions, you are centering yourself. If you are focused on your feelings about being called out, you are centering yourself. If you are demanding that the wounded person(s) educate you, you are centering yourself. You are not acknowledging the IMPACT and are instead focusing on your intent.
  • Maybe you’re confused about why a white person is calling you out about racism, or a cisgender person challenging something transphobic. It is the job of allies with privilege to call in other folks in those groups. People in marginalized groups have enough to do and are often tired of doing the teaching, correcting and challenging all the time. So others choose to step up and share some of that load. That’s what you may be experiencing here.
  • A quick explanation of “doubling down”: this is arguing your point even though multiple people are explaining why it is problematic. It’s continuing to try to explain why they are misunderstanding your intent. It’s probably almost anything other than: “I don’t fully understand what I got wrong, but I will shut up and listen, reflect, and learn.”
  • You have a chance to learn in this situation. Someone cares enough to try to help you be better. They could just write you off as a bigot or performative ally and walk away. TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY!!

I definitely haven’t covered ALL THE THINGS, but I think it’s a start. I’m just putting together the basics of what I wish someone had told me. If you have great links that you love for additional learning/resources, please hook us up in the comments.

This WILL NOT BE the place for arguing about whether the privilege is real, or snarking about how everyone is “offended” these days. If you’re not interested in doing work like this, move along. I will absolutely delete shitty comments and unfriend people who come at this with microaggressions or denial of their own privilege.

Crystal Gurney (she/her pronouns) is a life doula and coach. Post originally shared on Facebook, you can find Crystal and the original post  here.