“As an ally, I can offer my time, money and skills in a way that gives those directly impacted the choice of whether or not they want to take me up on it…without getting offended if they don’t.”
Since the murder of George Floyd, conversations around anti-racism and what it means to be an ally have reached an all-time high.
As is so often the case in our fast-paced and social media driven society, people are and were quick to catch on to terms and make them ‘trendy’. ‘Allyship’ has certainly been tweeted and shared more in the last year than ever before.
But what does ‘being an ally’ really mean? What does ‘being an ally’ have to do with doing the work of antiracism, unravelling our bias and elevating marginalised voices?
The trending of the hashtag #EndSars in the wake of the protests in Nigeria, was yet another example to me that not all of us have really grasped the concept of allyship
The #EndSars movement and the atrocities in Nigeria at the time, saw unacceptable curfews put in place and electricity cut, leaving peaceful protestors in the dark as armed forces opened fire. The Nigerian people were unarmed and executing their democratic and human rights to protest an unjust system. This has revealed a number of things around the idea of allyship which can help us understand what it really means.
I am not Nigerian. I have Nigerian friends, I have family who are Nigerian, but I am not Nigerian. And whilst I am Black and Black Lives Matter to me, my proximity to the events was in many ways more that of an ally than it was of someone directly impacted by the events.
What that means is that whilst I own the conversation around Black Lives Matter and antiracism fully from my lived experience, in the context of what is happening to our Nigerian family, it is my role to step aside and elevate the voices of those who are living this particular type of oppression. It is an opportunity for me to use the privilege I have as someone who is not oppressed in the same way to support the movement. It is my time to listen to what it is they need and how they would like to be supported, rather than assume my answers, thoughts and opinions are what is going to save the day.
As an ally, it is also my responsibility to be informed about new developments rather than relying on my Nigerian friends to update me: whether directly or via social media. It is my responsibility to raise awareness about the issues at hand with others, who like me, aren’t directly affected by the events.
As an ally, I can offer my time, money and skills in a way that gives those directly impacted the choice of whether or not they want to take me up on it and in what way they’d like to take me up on it, without getting offended if they don’t.
Nita Mosby Tyler talks about this idea of ‘Unlikely Allies’ in her TED Talk. She challenges us with the idea that justice requires an accomplice and that often that accomplice is one who is not directly affected by the injustice at hand. She calls it being unlikely allies. I like to think of it as being mutual allies.
What would happen if we stopped othering each other, stopped comparing the various ways in which systems of oppression affect us, stopped playing ‘Oppression Olympics’, and started becoming mutual allies to each other?
Where working class white people start speaking up about racism and the Black middle-class entrepreneurs started advocating for equity and inclusion of those with disabilities? A world where women champion rights for LGBTQ+ folks and feminism becomes anti-racist?
Mutual allyship is about acknowledging this. As marginalised communities we all experience different types of and sometimes even levels of oppression. It is in our unity that we can actually see change and create a better, more diverse, more equitable society for all.
How can you become a better ally ?
Maybe it is setting time aside to learn about the lived experiences of people you have previously never considered, maybe it’s by reflecting on your own privilege and how you can use it to champion others. Maybe it’s by checking on your Black, LGBTQ+, disabled friend to see how they’re doing and how you can support them.
If we can change the narrative around allyship and begin to view the world through the lens of ‘enough’, we might all find that there is enough.
Enough resources, enough compassion, enough innovation, enough creativity.
There is enough freedom for all of us and by becoming each other’s mutual allies, we may just find that a better tomorrow is possible.