How To Be A Better Ally

An individual, at any given moment, has a number of different identities which include race, gender, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status and the list goes on. With these different sets of identities, comes privilege, depending on which part of the spectrum you’re on. Privilege is defined as “a right, license, or exemption from duty or liability granted as a special benefit, advantage, or favor” (1). There are different forms of privilege such as:

  1. Ability. If you are abled-body and have no mental health impairment, you have more privilege than someone who has a physical impairment and/or someone who is not neurotypical.

  2. Class. There are two kinds of class: economic and social. In terms of economic class, it is expected that someone with greater financial wealth will have more privilege than an individual with less, as money (unfortunately) has the impactful and unparalleled ability of opening many doors.  Your financial capacity/status informs where you lie on the social spectrum, and the higher you are in this hierarchy, the more privilege that you possess (2).

  3. Gender. In a patriarchal society, the way an individual physically presents their gender (as male, female, or non-binary) can impact their level of privilege. The “patriarchy” can be defined as a system which places greater value on traditionally male characteristics, and thus acts to oppresses individuals who present as female or non-binary. By inherently placing greater value on traditionally male traits, such as aggression, lack of emotion, and confidence, this system devalues the non-binary folk and women who may not present this way. Thus ultimately infringes on the rights of these groups, leaving non-binary folks and women with unfair treatment in work and personal spheres.

  4. Race. Although racial privilege differs in every country, in the West and in Canada, this privilege belongs to white people/Caucasians. Racial privilege allows for institutionalized racism, as it paves a really long way for one racial group, but not another. People of color receive the brunt of inequality and are consistently disadvantaged in these systems, as they have to work harder to be on the same level as the privileged.

  5. Religion. Just like racial privilege, religious privilege differs for every country and in Canada, people who identify as Christian/Catholic hold this privilege. Due to misinformation from the western media (which is influenced by pervasive Christian rhetoric), any other religion will be viewed as strange or abnormal, and people practicing these different religions like Judaism and Islam are viewed as extremists.  

  6. Sexuality. Heterosexual privilege includes not having to ‘come out’ to your friends and family that you’re straight, and not having to fight for your right to marry or be in a relationship with someone of your choice.  Heterosexual privilege is not being called derogatory terms simply for being true to who you are, and is not questioning your normalcy for the majority of your teenage and young adult years. Heterosexual privilege is not having to go through conversion therapy to ‘correct a mistake’.

You can find out more on the different forms of privilege here and here.

Some privileges are born into and some you grow into, but like it or not, privilege brings oppression. We argue that individuals with these privileges have a responsibility to be an ally to those who are oppressed in society. Before we talk about allyship, let’s talk about a few other key terms & building blocks: prejudices, discrimination, & oppression. Prejudices refer to internally held biases, which are preconceived notions about certain beliefs, groups of people and so forth that we may not even be aware of  (3). An example of this is individual thinking that “all Muslims are terrorists” or “being gay is a mental illness”. When you accept this prejudice and act on it, you are acting in discrimination. Given the two examples before, this could be: not renting out an apartment to a Muslim family because of these prejudices, or choosing a straight man instead of an openly gay man for a job because of this internal bias. Finally, we arrive at oppression today: an amalgamation of prejudice and discrimination. The biggest misunderstandings around oppression usually center around the fact that prejudice and discrimination is not always plain to see and still happens today. When people mention the word “oppression”, people who are unfamiliar with the topic think of the 1800s, common and plain to think of examples such as black slavery, or colonialism and the Europeans treatment of the Indigenous people's lands. What most people don’t understand is systemic or institutional oppression. Institutional oppression is the enforcement/acceptances of discrimination executed by society and the normalization of it. When policies, laws, education systems, and the economy surrounding you actively work you- this is institutional oppression. A real-life example of how systemic racism (a form of discrimination by race) works is:

“...over 40% of drug arrests are not for selling any drugs but just for possession of marijuana... White and Black Americans are about equally likely to use marijuana, but Blacks are 3.7 more likely to be arrested for it[.] And that even if they don't get convicted of a crime that arrest can stay on their record and affect their chances at good jobs, housing and bank loans for the rest of their lives[.]” (4).

You can watch this video for more information on systemic racism!

Now that we’ve established some of the technicalities and explored a few problems, let’s consider possible solutions. So, how can we practice allyship?

  • Look inside of yourself! Evaluate your own thoughts & behaviors and the motivations behind them. Are your internal biases/prejudices actively shaping your thoughts or decisions? How can you confront these biases/prejudices? This is touched further upon in the next paragraph.

  • There should be a level of awareness, this can dome through being up-to-date with media, events, messages, and movements around the world.

  • Activism is one way to show support and solidarity, this can be shown through protesting and standing up for other individuals who do not look like you and/or don’t possess the same level of privilege (5).

  • Volunteering is a way of offering time to support and offer solidarity for work that deals with marginalized groups (5)

  • As responsible allies, we need to recognize when we need to get out of the way and use our platforms to project other voices that sometimes are not heard (5).

  • Listen to others’ views and perspectives with an open mind even if they may differ from your personal ideas. Practice active listening.

  • Don’t assume others’ views/perspectives/gender/religion/etc. Instead, ask.

  • Take it upon yourself to be informed about oppression systems and the issues surrounding it. Identify how you participate in them.

Oftentimes, we may make mistakes in how we react to issues which may reflect our internal biases. It is important to recognize these mistakes so as to discontinue the pattern of discrimination and prejudice. Here are several ways we make these mistakes (7):

  • Centering yourself: “I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!”

  • Denial that others’ experiences are different from your own: Reverse racism “I’m white but I also experience racism.”

  • Derailing: Asking the Canadian government “Why would you take in refugees if you can’t even support Canadians?”

  • Refusal to center the impacted: “All lives matter!”

  • Tone policing: “I won’t listen to you because you’re being so emotional right now.”

  • Denial that the problem is fixable: “Not everyone will like you because of your religion.”

  • Victim blaming: In response to rape victims, some people place the blame on victims by saying “You shouldn’t have been so drunk last night when around that crowd.”

  • Withdrawing: “I’m a guy so I won’t and don’t have to participate in women’s rights advocacy.”

By being mindful of our privilege, we can help direct the focus to issues that impact marginalized individuals and/or groups. We hope you’ve found some useful tips in this article and learned something new. This concludes the blog posts for the start of the 2019 year. Thank you for reading!

Written by Kanesha Calo, Lydia Mutoni, Natalie Czuczman, Kasun Medagedara, Ira Amiruddin