Editor's Note: This blog is in response to the 2020 Echoes on air! Live Event, "How To Be A Good Ally"
First, I want to thank the three panelists who shared their expertise and wisdom during Echos Media’s Live Event on “How to be a Good Ally”. As a white woman who wishes to avoid asking emotional labor out of her marginalized friends, yet believes that learning from the source provides the strongest lesson, these types of events fulfil a need in the community. Thank you for your bravery and willingness to help those of us who are behind you on this journey.
Synthesizing the multitude of important messages within this program cannot occur in the space provided for this article. Also, my voice isn’t the one people should listen to. I am still very much learning how to be a good ally and am making plenty of mistakes along the way. If you didn’t catch the live event, please stop reading this and listen to the podcast. Those voices will best guide you, as they did me. Those voices told me what I needed to hear to continue the fight.
To provide some context, I was in a very low spot while listening to the event. This summer I started an Anti-Racist Learning Club and have learned so much in a short amount of time. Being a teacher, my natural inclinations lean toward providing information to people and trying to see the good in everyone. Due to this, I wasn’t prepared for the pushback. Even though I experience plenty of resistance in my classroom, this type surprised me because it came from those I assumed shared my worldview—friends and family. After two large conflicts with people I love, I entered a state of shock. Add in the pandemic, my mental health disorders, and the stress surrounding reopening schools, and perhaps you can see why my emotional resources had diminished to empty. I didn’t want to log on. I didn’t want to do anything besides lay in bed. But, I have an amazing friend who has never abandoned me even though I have hurt her while on this journey. I couldn’t let her down again, so I logged on. I am so thankful I did as I took away three important lessons from the event.
First, I learned that it’s not about me. And yes, I realize I just did a long paragraph about myself. Balancing your own emotions within the context of social justice isn’t easy. However, focusing on your own needs isn’t always appropriate. I learned that from Wendy Koster, a LGBTQIA+ advocate who showed up and took a back seat. Not because her cause isn’t important, nor because she wasn’t a powerful woman or ally, but because the time wasn’t appropriate for her to dominate the conversation. She added to the discussion by sharing many bits of wisdom, but she showed how a good ally knows when to lead and when to follow. Edward A. Mitchell seconded this idea, asking allies to understand when they have the expertise or when they should offer support. Framing my allyship in this context provided a sigh of relief. I didn’t have to lead every fight, and it is inappropriate to do so. I hope to become better in this aspect of my allyship.
Second, you must understand your why, as explained by Arther Gregg. Without knowing why you want to be an ally, you cannot do the required work. If your why is to be a savior, that doesn’t cut it. The idea that you will somehow save an entire group of marginalized people on your own is a symptom of an inflated ego. But if you have a solid why and will put in effort, there is a lot of work to do. You must educate yourself and not expect others to do it for you. And as Mr. Gregg said, you must always keep updating your allyship. You don’t arrive at being a good ally and get to put your feet up. Ms. Koster said that you must have humility and realize you will make mistakes. Again, claiming perfection is allowing your ego to run the show, own up to the hurt you cause and dedicate yourself to avoiding it in the future. Like she said, it’s the impact that’s important, not the intent. You must feel uncomfortable with yourself. You also need to care of yourself. To someone like me, this is always on the bottom of my to-do list, but both Mr. Gregg and Mr. Mitchell spoke to balancing the needs for income, safety, and family with your desires to be a good ally. Do not martyr yourself. You will do no good but inflict a lot of damage.
Finally, you must commit to the long term. Arthur Gregg said this is a marathon and not a sprint. I realized I had naively held onto the belief that massive changes could occur in a short amount of time. Why I thought this? I have no idea. History shows that change must come from those fighting long term. I realize I have had a mystical finish line in my subconscious mind for years. That is not how this works. Mr. Gregg brought up the Bus Boycotts, an event I teach every year. Those individuals walked and carpooled for over a year. Every single day they showed up by making their own lives more difficult, hoping change would occur. I, a woman with privilege, can do the same. I must do the same.
To join Heidi in her fight against racism, check out her Facebook page The Anti-Racist Learning Club.