There is a lot of grief and trauma surrounding us right now. From violent attacks on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people and communities, to the legislative pushes against trans youth, we are confronted with hate and loss that is often compounded by personal tragedy.
Self-care is not enough of a response to the relentlessness of the current moment – we need to engage in community care.
Many of us may be wondering how we can be better allies to people around us who are directly harmed by hateful rhetoric, policy and action. Allyship is an important concept to engage with self-reflexively. We have to be deeply self and context aware in order to engage in effective and appropriate allyship.
Many activists and scholars of oppression and social justice remind us that “ally” is not an identity – it is action.
We cannot determine whether we ourselves are in fact allies nor can we define what allyship looks like. That has to come from the communities we stand beside. A t-shirt and a hashtag might bring some additional awareness to an issue or movement, but until we put ourselves on the line with real stakes, allyship can become performative and problematic.
However, we all have the ability to support each other in meaningful ways across difference and difficulty. Here are some tips to move toward becoming active accomplices to justice by leveraging our positionality, privilege and power.
- Speak up, but do not speak for others
- This can be a tough tension for folks to find. It is critical that people with more positionality and privilege use their voices to bring attention to, uplift and re-center conversations to amplify the work and stories of others. It is also important to make sure that Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and organizations are credited with the work and ideas they are putting forth. We must consistently focus on those narratives and messages rather than our own.
- De-center yourself
- A common response to the negative experiences of others is to talk about our own experience with something we believe to be similar. It might be a well-intentioned attempt to connect with others across difference; however, Rachel Cargle argues we are likely “trying to draw an equivalence that doesn’t exist.” This can invalidate the experience of the people who were directly affected in a particular instance and unnecessarily shifts a spotlight to an entirely different circumstance.
- Do not erase intersectionality
- Similarly, when groups or individuals opportunistically jump on a moment or a movement for a specific group at the intersection of multiple oppressions, it can center a group with more privilege. This is a consistent criticism of White feminism from other groups in the many feminist movements. A recent example is the murders of the AAPI individuals in Atlanta. Many White women took to social media to explain how this was a fear of all women all the time. This erased the important intersection of the victims who were both Asian and women in a context where White supremacy in the U.S. has led to anti-Asian policy, discrimination and violence.
- Engage in self-education
- It is important to do the work of learning on our own. We should not rely on those experiencing the oppression to answer our questions about history or current social justice issues. Particularly in academia, where we have a lot of access to information, we can expend the effort to know more so we can do better.
- Listen to understand rather than to be understood
- Active accomplices listen more and talk less. We have to believe people who are at the center of the oppressions and work through any feelings of defensiveness or desire to compare our own experiences. No one owes us their story, but when they offer it, we need to honor it as the gift that it is.
- Hold yourself and others accountable
- When we make a mistake (as all of us will!) we should acknowledge it, apologize, engage in self education and not make the same mistake again. When others say or do something harmful that we observe we need to engage in the practice of calling in or calling out. Even if we want to believe a single bad actor in our department, organization or community isn’t worth acknowledging – the silence of everyone around that person can become the more harmful experience.
- Don’t expect a parade (or even a high-five)
- If we have to remind people that we are an “ally” we probably aren’t doing the work. We should not expect a thank you, award, certificate or any acknowledgement at all. This should be part of our daily contribution to more humane and equitable working, learning and living spaces.
For more information about how to support the AAPI community right now:
*Last month I linked to some information about the rise in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the U.S. Last week, a single shooter murdered eight people at three massage businesses in Atlanta, six of those victims were Asian women. While we join in mourning with the families and communities of Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Paul Andre Michels, Chung Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, let’s also take action and support our colleagues, family members and students who are scared and grieving.
For more information about how to support trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary folks right now:
*There are currently bills in seven states, including Florida, that would restrict or eliminate access to facilities like restrooms, appropriate healthcare and participation in school and sports for transgender, gender nonbinary or gender non-conforming young people.
Jennifer Sandoval, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Assistant Director of Inclusive Culture can be contacted at Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org.