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Allyship signs, like “Be An Ally” and “White Privilege Exists,” have become standard at Trump-era protests. Photo: Philip Cohen / 613 Flickr pool.

3 key actions you can take to be a better race ally

By Yasmin Nissim on June 9, 2020

Race allies are integral partners in the struggle for equality and acceptance of diversity who can help to elevate and amplify voices that may not normally have a visible platform. Even though you may not be Black, Indigenous or a Person of Colour (BIPOC) or part of a marginalized group(s), as an ally you can still lend your voice and support to those who are. Here are three key actions you can take to be a better race ally:

1. Educate

It is your responsibility as an ally to proactively educate yourself on the issues, challenges, and barriers faced by BIPOCs in their day-to-day lives. This includes being open to confronting and acknowledging your own privileges, prejudices, and biases. There are countless excellent resources available online from many different people and perspectives that can help you build your knowledge in this regard. You must understand the struggle before you can participate in the cause.

Some important things to remember as you proactively seek knowledge:

  • Race is not a literal black/white binary. Racism and discrimination affects many different racialized communities in different ways, e.g., challenges faced by Indigenous people versus those encountered by new immigrants. Knowing the struggles of one does not mean you know the struggles of all.
  • Understand intersectional identities. Discrimination can take on complex layers depending on the individual. An economically disadvantaged BIPOC woman with a high school education will not necessarily face the same kind of racially-based discrimination or challenges as a university-educated, middle-class BIPOC man.
  • Not everyone will be open to talking to you about race-related issues. If you do have someone in your life who is comfortable discussing sensitive topics with you, remember they can only speak for themselves, not their entire community.
  • Avoid false empathy. Just because you were teased about wearing braces in grade school does not mean you understand what it is to face racial discrimination. Racism is a system of institutionalized oppression, supported by laws, practices, and constructs that currently exist in our society.
  • Don’t erase people’s cultural, ethnic, religious, and racial diversity, i.e., “I don’t see colour!” Erasure does nothing to address existing systems of inequality, bias, and discrimination. It only serves to sweep difficult issues under the rug and shut down discussion, rather than dealing with the reality that BIPOCs face every day.

2. Elevate

As an ally it is important that you lend your voice and support to marginalized communities without replacing voices from those communities with your own. Allow affected individuals to tell their own stories. For example, if you occupy a role where you have decision-making power to include more diverse voices on the topic of inclusion, use your position and your privilege to help create a space where those voices can be acknowledged and heard. Speak up, speak out, but don’t speak for.

3. Advocate

Advocacy can take many forms, from the way we vote to where we volunteer our time or where we donate our money. Sometimes it can be as simple as shutting down racist jokes, calling out stereotypes, or not supporting certain businesses. Ultimately, one of the most important actions in advocacy is the work done towards dismantling existing institutionalized systems of oppression and bias that exist in society. Knowing what shape your advocacy as an ally can and should take is part of educating yourself, as there will be differing needs depending on the community.


Resources

To help get you started, here are some excellent resources, some of which are from a U.S. perspective, but still resonate in a Canadian context:

Guide to Allyship

How to be a Race Ally (by Courtney Act, a most excellent drag queen!)

What is intersectionality, and what does it have to do with me?

My white friend asked me to explain white privilege

Examining white fragility

The Black-White Binary Obfuscates and Distorts

Why the “I don’t see color” mantra is hurting your diversity and inclusion efforts