What Kind of Ally Are You?
I’m torn by what I see in America’s streets. Black and white people standing, shouting, chanting, and sometimes bleeding next to each other. Black and White mothers standing between the corrupt and the righteous. Consecutive days of a multiracial coalition taking to the streets to protest systemic racism in law enforcement.
Even though these are incredible times, I can’t help but be wary. Wary that those emboldened by the horrific proof of racism will melt away when life returns to “normal”. Anxious that this fresh season of solidarity will crack in the face of a new crisis. Today, I am proud of my white brothers and sisters. I am also intrigued by the nature of their defiance.
I’ve seen that White people’s response to racism is as diverse as the communities they support. As a bridge-builder, I can’t help but try to understand why our allies stand with us and how they plan to fight for justice. Blacks have given white people the badge of “Ally” but I suspect many white people don’t understand what being an Ally means. For that matter, I doubt they even know what type of Ally they really are!
Perhaps it is simplistic but I believe that the White fight against racism is categorized two ways:
1) Public vs. private action and
2) Fighters vs. Lovers.
The illustration shows how these categories offer a helpful way to classify Allies:
- Public Fighters — Protestors
- Public Lovers — Bridge Builders
- Private Fighters — Insurgents
- Private Lovers — Teachers
This classification isn’t foolproof after all human beings reflexively defy analysis. I’m aware that many Allies shift from Public to Private and Fighter to Persuader. But, I believe that every Ally has a preferred way to engage which gives us a place to start.
Each type of Ally relies on their strengths to engage with social justice issues. Where do you fit?
Bridge builders seek to maintain an ongoing relationship with their family, friends and community. They are the first to calm a heated debate and carefully work to keep their opponent engaged. While they will reason with someone in private, they are drawn to the public square. They believe that demonstrating reconciliation, civility, and compromise in public provides an example for others to emulate.
Fearless, decisive, resolute, and provocative. The Protestor understands the power of civil disobedience and speaking truth to power. The Protestor knows where they stand and will fight for every inch. If you are not with them, you are against them. Protestors are the foot soldier of the social justice movement.
Persuaders play the long game. They pick their targets and choose their battles carefully. They prefer face to face interaction so they can tailor their approach to their opponent. Persuading in private allows their friends and family to “save face” and be open about their feelings. Persuaders may seem meek but don’t confuse their meekness with weakness.
These allies are insurgents. They seek to dismantle systemic racism and bias from within. They are adept at using their positions and privilege to subtly change hiring processes, budget priorities, legal precedent, even marketing campaigns for the cause of social justice. Insurgents share the same zeal for change but avoid the spotlight.
Excel at What You Do Best
As an ally, your best asset is your privilege. America has gifted white people with access to spaces and conversations that are out of bounds for people of color. You hear conversations we don’t. You see the injustice that is kept out of sight. Your voice is immediately respected and you are given the benefit of the doubt. Your concern creates actions, your anger creates change. Black Americans need you to be bold and specific. Take time to understand how you can use your best to deliver the most.
For example -
- Can you persuade decision-makers to take an Antiracism Pledge?
- Can you change or influence a policy in your organization that would create equity for people of color?
- Can you choose to purchase services or products from minority businesses?
- Are you targeting the right people? Some groups will not change. Do not try. Move on.
- Are you helping new allies get involved in social justice activities — maybe even invite them to the Next Step Coalition?
- Do you have a plan for educating yourself on social justice issues? The more you know the more you can offer.
- How can you help people protest who don’t live in a big city?
- What other ways can you protest without holding a sign or marching?
- How can you help other organizations who are allied with social justice causes?
- How are you making it easy for people to raise their hands as an ally?
- What actions are you taking to broaden your knowledge of key issues (criminal justice reform, police reform, community investment, etc.)
These are just action-starters. Once you’ve identified you are, take the time to create your own list of next steps. But, remember that you will be successful when you do what you are wired to do.
Don’t follow someone else’s roadmap, follow your own.