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Steps Toward Inclusivity: 11 Tips for Being an Ally

In my last post I shared how being an ally is often most heavily associated with advocating for a group that is marginalized and/or disenfranchised.

When the real work requires more, Allies do something. Just being committed is not enough.

Sitting quietly on the sidelines and cheering for your favorite political candidate or posting to Facebook is not the work of allies. Allies move the agenda, our shared agenda, forward because it is in all of our best interest. If you want ideas about what you can begin doing now, below are 11 Tips for Being an Ally.

1. Allies do their own work.

Get comfortable with the dimensions of your identity, your culture, and the lenses that inform your worldview. Do not assume that you’re not “ethnic enough” or “don’t have a culture”. We have all been acculturated over the course of our lives, and only a person who is comfortable with their own cultural identity can be an equal partner in taking a stand against oppression.

2. Make your values known.

Share openly with people your desire to eliminate oppression in all its form. Talk affirmatively about groups that are different from your own, to yourself and others.

3. Seek proximity.

Spend time with people who have different life experiences or worldviews from you. Getting to know people at deeper levels places them (and hopefully other people like them) into a “familiar” category in your brain. This minimizes the automatic negative and/or fear response that triggers (naturally, and in all humans) when we encounter something or someone quite different from our previous experiences.

4. Model the behavior.

Share experiences from your own life and upbringing. Being an ally isn’t just about giving support or friendship or understanding. It’s also about giving of yourself, being willing to be vulnerable is a wonderful way to demonstrate your intentions with actions.

5. Create the space.

Invite others to share their experiences with you, when and to the extent they feel comfortable. Each person is unique, so avoid making assumptions about how open a person will be with you. Also, the work of being an ally is “in the service” of ending oppression, not conditionally connected to you receiving recognition, reciprocity or even thanks from members of target groups.

6. Believe them.

If someone tells you something that is inconsistent with your own experience, rather than try to rationalize it, just listen. Believe that another experience, even one that includes a pain on behalf of someone for whom you care, is real. This sounds a little simplistic, but it is one of the most important elements of being an ally.

Let me give an example. I have been in sessions where a Latina woman spoke about living in a neighborhood for many years and never being invited to the block party that everyone else in her cul-de-sac attends every year. She shared with our group how that made her feel, from the perspective of a racial minority within that community (and the group with which she was sharing). Other members of the group were aghast by her story interrupted her to offer explanations about a misunderstanding, lost invitations, etc. Though their intentions were to offer comfort, the real work of allies is to listen. To believe.

7. Speak up.

If you see or hear something that is derogatory about another culture, say something.

8. Question your own thoughts and behaviors, without feeling guilty or ashamed.

We have all internalized negative messages about other groups. Your work is to examine these long-held messages and decide whether or not they still have a place within your current value system.

9. Create mechanisms for assessing your own progress.

Keep a journal, or enlist the support of a learning partner to set and monitor achievement toward your goals. Goals can be: Invite a person from a different race to my home for dinner, read a book about a culture that is significantly different from my own, or learn to speak another language. You and your learning partner can discuss your reflections on these activities, insights you gained, and additional questions that surfaced for you as a result of your experience.

10. Give yourself, and others, the benefit of the doubt.

We are all learning, all the time. This is a learning journey, and we need space to practice, try, make mistakes and be given alternatives without judgment.

11. Be patient.

This is ongoing work and not a check-the-box activity. I have committed myself for years to the continuous personal work of reflecting, challenging (myself), acting courageously (which has sometimes cost me relationships, including clients) and learning, with and from people who are in target and non-target groups. Every day I am giving a bit of feedback about what I could do or say differently, how I came across in a way that was perhaps not what I intended. My answer, in every case, and in the service of my own values, is “thank you.” Then I incorporate it, make the appropriate adjustment, and keep going—imperfectly quite often, but with passion.

While this list is tidy, the work is messy and it’s not easy. The shared vision of a more just and inclusive society is at the core of being an Ally.

The vision is what inspires the work we must do within ourselves to move us all forward.

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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