Building upon episode #3 of our (ex)clusion podcast, let’s dive deeper into Allyship, what it means, how you can become one and how it relates to privilege. -click to see full infographic-Privilege. You have probably heard discussions around privilege in mainstream media and social media in recent years. You may have even thought that you don’t experience privilege because everything you have in this world, you worked hard for and you sacrificed. However, privilege is the concept that you have greater benefits or rights in society solely due to the identity group that you belong to. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked, you can still experience greater benefits in society or greater access to opportunities than others, solely because of your, for example, race or because of your gender.
What are identity groups? They include race, ethnicity, religion, culture, age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, ability, language, etc… etc…
If you are a member of a dominant group in society – ie) if your race is white, if your gender is male, if your sexuality is straight….etc…etc… – you have probably experienced a certain degree of privilege, whether you are cognizant of it or not.
Now it gets complicated here because you are capable of experiencing privilege and oppression at the same time. You may belong to a dominant sex and gender in society (male, masculine) but you may also belong to an underrepresented ethnicity or sexual orientation. The interaction of these identity factors create experiences of privilege in some instances and experiences of oppression in others, and are unique to you. Humans are complex.
EVERYONE experiences some degree of privilege. Here is an insightful example from the Guide to Allyship.
Imagine your privilege is a heavy boot that keeps you from feeling when you’re stepping on someone’s feet or when they’re stepping on yours, while oppressed people have only sandals.
“Ouch! You’re stepping on my toes!” How do you react?
The problems with many common responses are obvious:
- Centering yourself: “I can’t believe you think I’m a toe-stepper! I’m a good person!”
- Denial that others’ experiences are different from your own: “I don’t mind when people step on my toes.”
- Derailing: “Some people don’t even have toes, why aren’t we talking about them instead?”
- Refusal to centre the impacted: “All toes matter!”
- Tone policing: “I’d move my foot if you’d ask me more nicely.”
- Denial that the problem is fixable: “Toes getting stepped on is a fact of life. You’ll be better off when you accept that.”
- Victim blaming: “You shouldn’t have been walking around people with boots!”
- Withdrawing: “I thought you wanted my help, but I guess not. I’ll just go home.”
In reality, most of us naturally know the right way to react when we step on someone’s toes, and we can use that to help us learn how to react when we commit microaggressions.
Let’s re-frame our privilege as a call to action to lift up others in underrepresented groups. This is where Allyship comes in. You also don’t have to experience privilege to be an ally – you can be an ally to others regardless of what identity group you fall in.Allyship is a verb.
- Centre the impacted: “Are you okay?”
- Listen to their response and learn.
- Apologize for the impact, even though you didn’t intend it: “I’m sorry!”
- Stop the instance:move your foot
- Stop the pattern:be careful where you step in the future. (When it comes to oppression, we want to actually change the “footwear” to get rid of privilege and oppression, but metaphors can only stretch so far!)
Reacting in a fair and helpful way isn’t about learning arbitrary rules or being a doormat. It’s just the reasonable thing to do. Still, it’s hard to remember in the moment, because these issues are so charged in our society. Try starting with “Thanks for letting me know” to put yourself in a better frame of mind. If after you say that, you need to take some time to think about the situation, that’s fine, too.
Empathize with the person and even if you don’t “see” the oppression, believe them and imagine if it was you in that experience. Then take action – advocate for them, amplify them and assist them.
Check out our Allyship infographic for more ways to be an effective Ally.