For many in my generation, we’re living through our first period of social uprisings as adults. But unlike our parents and grandparents, most of our community organizing takes place behind a glowing screen.
As a millennial, my peers and I are often known for being apart of the social media generation. Scoffs and sighs from our elders about being on our phones too much go unnoticed because most of us aren’t playing Farmville on our phones (I’m looking at you 50-year old man on Facebook.) Instead,we’re starting social revolutions with hashtags, retweets and viral videos.
It’s our generation who helped push the #NeverAgain movement into the national spotlight. It’s our generation that forces people to see viral videos of black men being subjected to use of excessive force by law enforcement and demand things change. It’s our generation who, for the first time in history, have unprecedented access to people from around the world to engage in honest conversations about race, gender and sexuality on Twitter.
But with all of the good that comes from living with everything at the click of a button, it’s our responsibility to dig deeper into the motives, meanings and message behind being an ally to people from diverse backgrounds and groups. Because retweeting, sharing and liking isn’t enough.
The Community Tool Box, a free, online resource for those working to build healthier communities and bring about social change, has great resources for those looking to build on becoming an ally. In the tool box “Learning to be an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds,” they give amazing tips for people looking to dissect through the right and wrong ways to be an ally.
“If you are not a member of a particular cultural group, you have a role to play that is different from the members of that group. You may be able to intervene and be effective in supporting the group in ways that the group members may not.”
Well, what is an ally according to the Community Tool Box? An ally is any person who supports, empowers, or stands up for another person or a group of people. Basically, everyone has needed an ally in their life before. When you break it down, it’s needing someone to help you when you were unfairly blamed, targeted or left without resources.
It is in our own self-interest to be an ally. In the long-run, each of our own struggles is tied to everyone else’s. In order to live in the kind of communities we hope for, in order to build real unity, and in order to reach our goals of building strong communities, we need to understand that we are all affected when any one person or group is not getting a fair deal or is not able to live a normal decent life. Second, being an ally is simply the right to do. If we want to live in communities that have a high moral standard, we ourselves need to start the ball rolling by doing what is right. – Community Tool Kit
Before diving in the deep end and resorting to playing savior to every marginalized group, it’s important to do a self-audit to see where you are coming from and examine your own biases. I am a straight, white-passing female from a middle class background. I do not know the experiences of those from marginalized races, sexualities or economic classes. And it is not my place to speak on behalf of anyone in these communities.
But my privilege and place in these majority groups doesn’t mean I am disqualified from having a voice in the fight for equality. It’s the way I use my voice that matters.
MTV Decoded did an amazing job explaining this concept in a video called “White People Whitesplain Whitesplaining,” where they discuss the importance of allowing people from minority groups speak for themselves.
“Whitesplaining — to explain or comment on something in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, from the perspective of the group one identifies with, thereby clearly exhibiting their own bias,” wrote Jade Green, Huffington Post columnist.
It’s through the process of whitesplaining and all the various forms it can be used that being an “ally” can actually do more harm than good in the long run. Even with the best intentions, the act of speaking on behalf of someone in a marginalized community perpetuates privilege and amplifies your voice instead of those who are directly affected by discrimination.
We must resign to the notion that we don’t know what we don’t know. If you haven’t experienced discrimination about your sexuality – don’t tell someone in the LGBT community how to react if they are harassed on the street for holding their partners hand. If you haven’t grown up fearful of law enforcement and the use of excessive force because of your race –don’t compartmentalize someone who has as “disrespectful” for being unbecoming to the police.
Being an ally isn’t to boost your ego or to relieve guilt you may feel about being in a privileged group. And it’s definitely not about playing the savior to all marginalized groups. As allies, we need to look deeper at the historical context of a groups oppression, come to terms with how our privileged groups may have led to their societal discrimination and at the baseline be an ally for the good of morality of our communities. Just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said ““Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”