Frequently Asked Questions – Being an Ally

An ally is dedicated to learning about the experiences of people who have been historically marginalized, empathizing with their challenges, and building relationships with people from those groups.

An ally works to end a form of oppression that gives them privilege(s). Allies listen to, and are guided by, communities and individuals affected by oppression.

For some people, ‘ally’ may be a new term. Just like it sounds, it’s related to being aligned with or forming an alliance. The idea being that in order to make progress on issues of oppression, we have a lot of work to do. Being an ally is one way that we can work together to further such work.

If you are already familiar with the term, you may be wondering how to be a better ally.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions that may be helpful in your journey to be a better ally:

Is oppression really an issue in Canada?

Yes. Canada as a whole has a range of systemic issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, etc. The colonial history and exploitation of Indigenous people throughout Turtle Island has a harmful legacy. There has also been a rise of hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years. Some of these issues have become increasingly polarized.

Why can’t we just stop all this talk about difference? I see us all as equal.

Equality doesn’t go far enough to create an end to oppression. If we want to make sure everyone has an equal playing field, we need to work on equity. We need to treat some people differently to adjust for what has been a long lasting and deeply embedded system of oppression.

Why is allyship important?

Authentic allyship is one way we can work towards ending oppression in Canadian society. When people leverage their privilege to address oppression, they can help to dismantle it.

What is an ally?

An ally is a person who works to end a form of oppression that gives them privilege(s). Allies listen to, and are guided by, communities and individuals affected by oppression. Forms of oppression include: ableism, ageism, audism, classism, biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and others.[1]

[1] https://www.the519.org/education-training/glossary

How do I know if I have privilege?

Sometimes it’s hard to realize we have privilege. We are so used to the benefits of speaking the same language as our teacher, seeing ourselves in leaders or media personalities, being able to buy flesh tone products or access a space or show our relationship without fear. It doesn’t mean you haven’t had challenges, it means that the challenges you have aren’t related to your identity.

How can I use my privilege?

You can speak up, amplify the voices of other people, advocate. Think of it in terms of a concert. If you are tall and standing in front of a shorter person, it can really impact their experience of the show to have you standing in front of them. Moving and letting them stand in front of you can really help their view with minimal impact on yours. That’s how easy using our privilege can be. It can make a big difference to others with minor adjustments to us.

OK, now that I am an ally - what’s next?

Please keep in mind that this is ongoing work. No one can call themselves an ally. Being an ally involves taking action to challenge oppression and only people who are experiencing the oppression can determine who is demonstrating allyship.

How can I avoid artificial allyship?

Being an ally must be genuine. We must be willing to transfer our benefits of privilege to people in marginalized groups. Some people make statements to make themselves get the reward of being seen as an ally, but aren’t actually willing to share and give up anything. This ‘performance’ can be even more harmful than not doing anything.

How can I better educate myself on these topics?

Remember, it is not the responsibility of the members of the marginalized group to inform your practice. Google is your friend! Listen, read, join book clubs, and search hashtags on Instagram. There are lots of resources from all levels of government and organizations. Access the resource list on this website, or visit your local library’s collection.

Now that I have read all of this, I am feeling overwhelmed. How can I get this right?

Remember true allyship includes centering the experience of vulnerable groups. Try and center their feelings and experiences. This is a big job and we can each contribute.

How can I convince others to realize how important this is?

Amplifying the voices of people experiencing marginalization is a great start. You can help others realize how oppression manifests and creates harm by leading by example, continuing to learn and refine your practice, and sharing that information in all areas of your life.

What should I do when other people aren’t demonstrating allyship?

Call them out or call them in. It’s important to call out acts of oppression when you see them, especially if you are a part of a privileged group. Reference laws, work policy, any resources that help you educate others on these topics. You can use ‘I speak’ language to be less confrontational and explain how the lack of action may be harmful to others. ‘I speak’ is taking ownership for what you say by using I or we rather than you in conversation with someone.

I feel like I am walking on eggshells. How can I get this right?

It’s OK not to get everything ‘right.’ Remember, determining the best thing to do may be different depending on time, space and the context. It’s about ongoing work that centres the experience of the vulnerable group(s). We are all a work in progress and have lots to learn (and unlearn).

What if I offend someone, even though I didn’t mean to?

Listen and do not be defensive. Sit in the discomfort of being wrong and aim to do better. Remember, impact is more important than intent. The impact of someone else’s pain is a bigger issue than your feeling badly about the fact that you had good intentions. Center the feelings of the person experiencing the marginalization.

Sometimes I feel lonely in this work, like I can’t make anyone happy.

Sometimes when you are trying something new it can be alienating. The important thing is to know you are not alone in this work and seeking other like-minded people may help. Find online community groups, local organizations, and others who are committed to the work. Contact the Huron County Immigration Partnership, or your local Immigration Partnership to find about projects and groups in your area. Working together can make this work very positive and rewarding.

Resources

If you are interested in learning more about a particular topic, check out some of the resources we have compiled, including books, videos, articles, podcasts and more.

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