Folks who have seen me out and about have heard me toss out the word "accomplice" instead of "ally." I use the term because I'm not always convinced being an ally is enough. Casting good votes, sharing good articles, maybe showing up to a march - these are good things, and people should continue to do the same. This builds community. Bringing your friends along will help open more minds to the challenges facing historically marginalized communities. Keep doing these things.
But being an accomplice puts some skin in the game. Taking a personal risk to advance a greater good. Recognizing the voices in that community that you have discovered through allyship that have not been lifted, and giving up your space and your voice so that they might be heard. Giving written testimony to elected officials to ensure women and people of color have space for public testimony. Calling out your friends, and working with them to connect folks to organizations that might otherwise not have that connection, bringing new perspectives that make organizations function better. Do this, too.
It begins, of course, with being a good ally. I'm immediately reminded of a piece by The Oatmeal. Give it a read.
See, the path to being a good ally begins with a willingness to be challenged - and accept it. While we have an innate desire to be right, and to have our frame of reference be left untouched, that can lead to harmful reactions to those who have a different experience, particularly if theirs challenges core beliefs that we hold. Statistics and data are great, but the fact is that they do not trump real-life experiences.
We see this often in urbanist circles, and in conversations around property taxes. The data shows that property taxes in Seattle aren't that bad compared to other major metropolitan cities. The refrain about people being "taxed out of their homes" is not supported by data. While there is information to suggest some people may have to leave as a result of increasing property taxes, we ignore that figure because it's so low.
And then we reject it when brought up by communities of color.
The problem: my lived experience tells me I'll be OK and can survive these tax increases. My wages have gone up over the years, and as a white dude, I can find employment. But people who I talk with in black and brown communities have a different experience. Stagnant wages, a more difficult path to employment, and housing that is held tight because housing mobility is much more difficult thanks to systemic racism.
So sure, the data shows that the impact of property tax increases is marginal. But it's the people on the margins who are getting the brunt. Outright rejecting their argument means not hearing it, means refusing to acknowledge that experience because it doesn't match our own. That's not being a very good ally. And if you're having trouble being an ally, you'll have even more trouble being an accomplice.
Aside from my own experience (which includes a lot of fucking up, being told I fucked up, listening, learning, and changing), I am given to thought by so many others in our community. From the Lynda Foster model of not attacking motives, to a phenomenal presentation by Akua Asare-Konadu, Cecilia Jeong, and Elissa Goss on self-reflection and not projecting white perspective on lived experience of people of color, and so many more conversations. Personally, I try to use these to better myself, and I hope that others take them and do the same.
With that, some pointers and things to think about when you are trying to be an ally:
Think before you speak (and then think about not speaking). I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. When I hear or see something that I believe is factually wrong, I want to correct it. But that's not always the right answer. There are some pure fact issues, but if person x explains their lived experience, and you want to respond with, "Yeah, but (data) and (this article I read once) say otherwise, so you're wrong," maybe don't do that. Think about it. And if you're still so fired up you have to respond, think about acknowledging the different space you come from, and try to learn more about why there appears to be a difference of opinion.
Actively break down barriers to participation. We all have our clubs that are trying to do good things. And sometimes we want to romanticize the rules to keep other people out. (Of note: I'm hella guilty of this). So when you get called out - think about it, and maybe don't persist. Winning is fun, but sustainable winning is better. And that happens when we keep people engaged.
Help new folks master the process. There will always be people using the process. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. One of the complaints I hear from a lot of people about it is that they don't understand it, so feel they don't get to participate. On point. So if you know it well, help folks use it. Share your skill. Find allies who support the idea you want, work with them on the how it will be implemented, and let them take lead on presenting it. I can't tell you how many meetings I go to that are dominated by white men debating - and how many times women and men of color have asked me to help ensure they get their voice heard. If you're calling on people, consider calling on people who aren't being heard, and help ensure they keep coming back.
No #AllMalePanels. If you are putting panels together, actively seek folks who aren't white men to be on your panels. If you get invited to panels, ask who the other participants are. Especially if you're on an #AllMalePanel, be willing to not be on it. Offer up a list of women you know who will be just as good (or, more likely, better) than you. It works. Every time I've done this, one of the women I offer gets on the panel, and she always crushes it.
Go to events that take you out of your comfort zone. That's not to say crash parties, but if you're invited to Black Pride - GO. Be present, listen to folks, enjoy the food and music. You'll make good friends, you'll have a good time, and you'll have an opportunity to learn.
It's not about you. By taking any slight against a white politician, or "white people" personally, and then reacting as such, you're not doing anyone any favors. One plus one does not, in fact, equal tacos. But if you want to believe it does, great - do it to yourself, but consider that maybe - just maybe - it equals two.
Be prepared to do it wrong - and apologize if you're called out. If you get called out for doing something racially insensitive, you probably did something racially insensitive. My gut reaction when that happens: No, you don't understand! But impact > intent. When we immediately react defensively, we create a space that is unsafe for others to call us out. Instead, acknowledge the impact - even if that's the best you can do immediately - and be willing to hear why if the person is willing to tell you. But remember - it's on us to be less shitty, not on marginalized communities to babysit us. So also don't get (visibly) upset if the person doesn't want to talk about it right now. Sometimes we all need time to process things.
I'm sure there is a ton more - I know there is. But ultimately, it comes down to this: be okay with being wrong, if only so you can have more knowledge to do even more when you're doing right. Find your white friend who gets it and is willing to let you know when you're being a douche. And when your black and brown friends do the same, thank them for their honesty, learn, and grown. When we're better allies, we'll be better accomplices, and can continue to grow a progressive movement that gets even more shit done, while taking care to ensure we are doing so equitably with the lens of social and racial justice in the front of our action.