By NICOLE SALMON
“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” - Lilla Watson
Lilla Watson is an Aboriginal elder, activist, educator and visual artist from Queensland, Australia. She has expressed reluctance claiming this quote as her own because it was formulated as part of collective process involving Aboriginal activists group Queensland,1970s. Regardless of attribution, the message speaks to a fundamental truth - recognizing that an all in approach is required to dismantle structures and systems that impede the ultimate goal of liberation. It requires an understanding and acceptance that the fight to achieve racial equality is not a “my fight” or a “your fight” scenario, but an “our fight” one.
If we accept that everyone has a role to play in the pursuit of racial equality and justice, then how and where does allyship fit into the picture? Before going any further, let’s first look at the following two definitions of allyship.
The first definition states that allyship is:
“an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group.” [i]
The second definition is taken from an interview with Dr. Kathy Hogart, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Waterloo, in which she states that allyship is:
“where privilege meets oppression in a journey of change.” [ii]
Both definitions identify the concept of privilege and leveraging that privilege to support the work of marginalized groups or communities seeking change. The person with privilege is not positioned as being bound to the outcome but sits on the periphery of the desired change.
While there is no significant personal risk associated with being an ally, engaging people as allies represent a first step in the process towards advancing change. So what does this mean for non-Black People of Colour desiring to be allies in supporting the Black community in bringing about racial equality and an end to systemic oppression?
Here are a few specific ways non-Black People of Colour can be allies:
1) Examination of self
A great starting point is to examine your beliefs, attitudes and feelings about anti-Black racism. This is the perfect time for reflection, discovery and confronting what may be extremely uncomfortable truths. Take the opportunity to ask yourself some tough questions such as “How have I been complicit in perpetuating the “normalcy” of anti-Black racism? What am I prepared to do to alter my complicity? Do I truly believe and accept the equality of all people or do I feel the constructed classification of human hierarchy is the natural order of things? ”
2) Know and understand your role as an ally
It is important to be the main driver of your learning. You must take full responsibility for your own learning and don’t expect Black people to teach you what you need to know. Understand that there is a constant burden and weight borne by Black people in navigating anti-Black spaces, so teaching you is not high on their list of priorities. Allow your curiosity to propel you to seek the information and resources that are readily available for you to increase your knowledge and awareness of the issues.
As a Person of Colour, it is expected that you will stand in solidarity with those whose interest you are supporting. Being a good ally requires one to listen without judgement. Understand the voices of Black people must be centred in the struggle and fight for equality. You are there in a supporting role.
You can speak up and challenge People of Colour and others whenever you witness discriminatory behaviours or hear racist statements or comments. You can advocate and help make room and space for Black voices to be heard.
3) Move beyond Allyship
Allyship has limits and by itself will not result in the seismic changes demanded of racial equity. The inadequacy of allyship to achieve systemic change has many social justice and Black activists calling for a shift from being an ally to becoming an accomplice and/or co-conspirator. On this continuum allyship is positioned as the first step – the entry level – towards dismantling racist policies, systems and structures.
Consider moving towards being an accomplice or co-conspirator means you are committed for the long haul and taking bold and courageous actions. It means you are vested in the outcome and you realize that your liberation is indeed bound to that outcome. You are aware of and willing to take on significant levels of risk. In other words, you are willing to put “skin in the game.”
Nicole Salmon is Founder & Principal of Boundless Philanthropy, where she provides transitional (interim) senior leadership support, fund development planning and board development services. An avid reader, gardener and sports enthusiast, she has a deep appreciation for service, building strong connections and deep personal relationships. She is co-editor of the book Collecting Courage: Joy, Pain, Freedom and Love due for release in November 2020 published by Gail K. Picco, an imprint of Civil Sector Press.
[i] Definition adapted from theantioppressionnetwork.wordpress.com/allyship/