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What Do People Often Get Wrong About Being An Ally?

12/06/2017 13:58 BST | Updated 12/06/2017 13:58 BST
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What do people often get wrong about being an ally? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Lexa Michaelides, intersectional feminist, management engineering student at UWaterloo:

Well, people get a lot of things wrong about being an ally, myself included. I thought about it and here's my take:

  1. It's not about you. The whole point of being an ally is to help other people. Do not shape your allyship into whatever also benefits you (overtly or subtly). Don't raise your voice above the people you are trying to work for. Don't ask them to spend their time helping or educating you. Do your own share of work and then do more.
  2. You are not a hero. You are not special. You don't need or deserve a cookie or praise for not being like those other white people or those other men. You are still complicit in your own community's oppressive actions and though your allyship is appreciated and important, it does not entitle you to special treatment or coddling. You should be working for the cause because you believe in it, not because you want to be treated gently. If you need people to coddle you to feel like what you're doing is worth it, your heart's not in it anyway.
  3. Being an ally doesn't make you part of the community. Yeah, you're a friend to the community and they appreciate you, but you're still not one of them. You don't get to use their reclaimed slurs or participate in their cultural practices (without a specific invitation). "Some of my best friends are black" is not an excuse for using the n-word. The A in LGBTQIA+ doesn't stand for "ally" (it's for the aces, aros, and agender folks).
  4. Ally is a verb. Your allyship doesn't count unless you're backing it up with actions. You don't get to call yourself an ally if you don't actually do anything to support the label. Call out your fellows for their oppressive actions. Donate to the cause. March in protests. Educate people.
  5. Messing up isn't the end of the world. We get it. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of everything and sometimes you'll screw up. Sometimes you'll use the wrong pronoun or you'll use a term that's out of date. Apologize, remind yourself to do better, and move on. Don't make a fuss and beg forgiveness because...it's not about you.

If you want to see some examples of how to deal with messing up, refer to a question I asked in my early Quora days. In it, four excellent allies have shared their experience of screwing up and how they learned and grew from it. I counted myself among those four excellent allies but hey, you're the ones asking me for advice on being an ally!