Last year was one that saw white supremacist marches, a fatal shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, and widespread discussion of discrimination and racism. It was certainly a time when allies in the fight for equality and justice were needed, and that's still true in 2018.
But what is an ally, exactly? At Safety Pin Box, the term is defined as referring to someone from a privileged group who supports the efforts of oppressed people. How that support is ultimately defined depends very much on the needs and wishes of the oppressed people in each instance.
And because each of us has various aspects of humanity interwoven together, and linked in various ways, a person might find themselves in the position of an ally in one context and of the person being oppressed in another.
Ultimately, remember that being an ally is about doing the work, not simply claiming that you are. "Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly, but expecting different results," activist Jerin Arifa tells HuffPost Canada. "If we are serious about ending prejudice, our behaviours must change. I don't want to wait another 50 years for equality."
What can you do to be an ally? Here are nine tips you can put into action starting today.
"If you chose to be an ally, you should educate yourself on issues affecting the group and why they are issues," J.F. Garrard, founder of Dark Helix Press and marketing strategist for Ricepaper magazine, tells HuffPost Canada. Don't simply ask people who are already marginalized to do the work of educating you. Instead, do your own research and reading — put in the work.
So, whether it's learning about the issues that affect the LGBTQ community, people of colour, immigrants, Indigenous peoples, or women, there are plenty of websites with resources and tools to help you understand what hurdles and challenges they face, and how you can be a better ally to them.
"The most important quality for an ally is courage," Arifa says. That means being willing to be honest with yourself and recognize where your own implicit biases lie. "Allies must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations with ourselves about how — despite our best intentions — we might be contributing to the status quo of racism/sexism/ableism/other forms of oppressive systems."
Understand where injustice lies
We all recognize that injustice exists in violent groups like the Ku Klux Klan, but it's also important to realize that injustice goes beyond the most obvious examples. "Most of us find it too scary to admit that we're all part of the system that upholds the continuum of racism, which can range from micro-aggressions to genocide," Arifa says.
Don't keep it a secret
Garrard says that a key part of doing the work of allyship is talking to people about why you're doing it. "Change will take place only if people are willing to work together across groups," he says. "Inform your own family and community why you are an ally and of the importance of your work."
Leverage your privilege
It's not enough to merely recognize your privilege; you've got to put it to use by using it to intervene on behalf of those without it.
"Based on your personal safety concerns, there is a huge range of ways you can be an ally," Arifa says. That might mean donating money to causes you feel are important to the fight against oppression. Or it could mean showing up at protests or even physically intervening to protect someone.
Be willing to be uncomfortable
It's not enough not to say offensive things yourself — you also need to challenge other people when they do and work to educate them.
"It's pertinent for members of a dominant group to educate people of similar backgrounds," Arifa says. "For example, men need to speak up when they hear other men make rape 'jokes,' or victim blame. White folks need to challenge racist friends and family members when they say offensive things."
Open up opportunities
A lot of people have been prevented from accessing wealth because of systemic oppression, including laws and discriminatory hiring practices. If you're in a position of power in some way, share opportunities at your workplace beyond your own friend network, or make sure panels at your workplace actually represent diversity.
"Even as someone with multiple oppressed identities, when I organize events, I try to find speakers who might be farther marginalized than me," Arifa says. "Indigenous women, for example, are rarely included in explicitly 'progressive' or 'feminist' spaces."
Sometimes being an ally means you'll be corrected — we all get some things wrong, even when our intentions are good.
"Sometimes the people you represent will correct you publicly or misunderstand your intentions. Be aware that some may even be offended you are speaking up," Garrard says. "Be compassionate and empathetic, think about the situation from their point of view."
Sometimes being quiet and listening is the best way to make your good intentions clear, and to learn.
Don't give up hope
Arifa says she can't force other people to see her as just American instead of Muslim-American or Bangladeshi-America, regardless of how she personally feels. But we can all work to move beyond that in ourselves, even if we live in a system that can make that difficult.
"It doesn't mean we can't rise above these systems of oppression," she says. "There is a difference between being a willing participant in discrimination and having normal reactions to a racist society."
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