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What Does it Mean to be an Ally?

It seems to me that this is a timely question. We did a session at our recent ECE Social Justice Conference about ally ship with a focus on race and racism. We asked: what are the helpful and non-helpful things that white allies do? From the lists we generated, these are a few that really resonate with me today, particularly as important reminders for us white people striving to be effective allies in the fight against racism:

Do not speak for people of color or other groups targeted by oppression unless you are a member of that group.

Some of us white people get stuck on the idea that we are responding to oppression on behalf of people of color….. “I am doing this for them.” In fact, racism is a white people’s illness. It is something we are born into whether we like it or not. When we speak up against oppressive acts based on skin color discrimination, we are participating in the process of taking responsibility for the collective acts of our own people. Use I statements and own your part in addressing racism wherever you find it.

Speak up because it matters to you and you are modeling that.

This follows along with the use of I statements. Speak up by stating that this is important to you…it matters that some people are treated unfairly, hated and discriminated against because of the color of their skin. It matters because the existence of racism diminishes our potential for caring and peaceful communities.

Speak up because you want to interrupt the status quo.

If the institutions and way of doing things in our society remains grounded in maintaining white dominance, none of us can claim our full humanity. When more of us are willing to disrupt the status quo and examine how this inequitable and false system insolates us all from our true authentic being, we can be freed to experiment with what the human community could be.

Do not expect “credit” for doing your part.

At the conference, we heard from people of color that it seems like white people tend to want to get “credit” for our ally work or our contributions to the anti-racism effort. I sometimes refer to this as our competition to be “the good white person”. We want other people to know we are different from those white people who associate with bigotry and hate rhetoric. We want our name on the program credit line or acknowledgements.

Practice humility.

This is probably the single most important ally practice or behavior. Humility means we listen more than we talk. It means we really hear the stories of people targeted by oppression and do not rush to our own defense and denial. Humility means we sit with and live with the discomfort of knowing there is not a quick fix for eliminating oppression. Humility means we do our part, day after day, for the long haul, not for others, not for credit, but with others, and because it matters.

Be a Provocateur

“Be the person who speaks up. Be the person who asks questions. Be the person who will tell the truth about hard topics. Be the person who raises their hand and says, “can we talk about this some more?” Be a provocateur, provoke change, provoke hope, provoke justice. In addressing an unfairness, an act of discrimination, stereotyping or oppression, you have staked your claim in a form of resistance.”

[an excerpt from my book: “Anti-bias education in the early childhood classroom: hand in hand, step by step.” Routledge Press]

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