Being an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds

Being an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds

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.

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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.

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Why shouldn’t you become an ally? (Community Tool Kit: Section 5. Learning to be an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds”)

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.”


A Lesson on Intersectionality from The Radical Lesbians

A Lesson on Intersectionality from The Radical Lesbians

If you were to think back to the major feminist movements in American history, what images of women come to mind? Do you think of women of color from various gender, sexuality and class backgrounds? Or is your initial image of middle to upper class, straight, white women? If your answer was the latter, don’t feel bad.

You’re right.

The Women’s Rights Movement of the 1970s  saw primarily white, straight middle class women at the forefront of the movement.

Throughout all of the Women’s Rights Movements in American there has been a noticeable lack of diversity among the women. For the most part, the issues brought fourth by the marches affected primarily whitestraight, upper-class women and excluded issues affecting women of color, lesbian women and women from lower economic classes.

While all women should be commended for standing up for their rights in the face of injustice – we need to remember that many of the women involved in the leadership of the Women’s Rights Movements in the 1920s and 1970s used the same tactics as their male oppressors to silence the voices of their fellow marginalized women.

The January 21st 2017 Women’s March on Washington

And that was their biggest mistake. Silencing the voices of women across gender, sexuality and economic backgrounds led to the movements problem with inclusivity that follows the movement today. It’s the voices of the collective woman who will propel  us forward toward equality for all women.

While researching this topic, I was interested to hear the complaints  from the women who were silenced and hear their perspective on the issue of diversity within the movement. And that led me straight to the Radical Lesbians.

In 1970, a group called The Radical Lesbians distributed a letter “The Woman Identified Woman” to declare how angry they were about lesbian speakers being excluded from the Congress to Unite Women in New York City and the social structure of lesbians and people of color from being excluded from a movement that directly affected them.

The “Woman Identified Woman” pamphlet distributed by the Radical Lesbians in 1970

The letter came out in the years following the civil rights movement when women were empowered by the social and political change they had seen happen for the African American community. But at the time, the voice of the women’s movement didn’t include women of color or women from various sexual and gender identities. And the  Radical Lesbians had enough. 

“It should first be understood that lesbianism, like male homosexuality, is a category of behavior possible only in a sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy,” the letter read.

The letter was a call to arms for women to stop excluding lesbians and people of color from the movement and to break down the barriers men created to tear apart women because lesbians weren’t seen as “real women.”

“For women, especially those in the movement, to perceive their lesbian sisters through this male grid of role definitions is to accept this male cultural conditioning and to oppress their sisters much as they themselves have been oppressed by men.”

Reading the letter forced many feminists re-evaluate their intentions and the broader role of their mission – to make major changes to society that sought to oppress all women. One could argue that this is the exact reason the Radical Lesbians chose their name because they believed that the feminist movement would not be successful if they played by the rules and continued to exclude women from the mission.

“It is the primacy of women relating to women, of women creating a new consciousness of and with each other, which is at the heart of women’s liberation, and the basis for the cultural revolution.”

Just as the Radical Lesbians said,  women relating to women and coming together to be a voice for change is the heart and soul of the women’s liberation movement. It is my hope that in the years to come, when we see more women’s rights movements popping up around the county that women from all backgrounds choose to empower the voices of their sisters who have historically been silenced by men and women alike.



LGBT History Month: The History and Importance

LGBT History Month: The History and Importance

In October we’re not only celebrating the month of Halloween, the birth of Hillary Clinton and the resurgence of Pumpkin Spice Lattes – we’re honoring members of the LGBT community with the beginning of LGBT History Month.

If you’re like me and love learning about history and the stories of those who helped shape it – you’re going to love LGBT History Month.

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