Common Traps in Allyship

Our upcoming workshop takes a look at where people fall short when trying to be allies. This week, we decided to share some questions to get people thinking about disconnection between action and impact. Think through these questions, such that you may be more reflective in what you do or say.

What are the limits of motivations in determining our impact?

Motivation to do good is a key component for doing good in the world, but it is not enough to just be motivated and being motivated does not protect you from unintentionally doing harm. People can have the kindest intentions and, yet, create negative impacts on others. We must maintain a reflective perspective on how our actions can (mis)translate our intentions. If our actions are challenged and we defend those actions by asserting that our intentions were good, we are negating the valid experience of the other person and foreclosing on our own future development. Rather than being defensive, use these challenges to grow by internalizing them positively. When we are challenged, instead of turning back to intentions, acknowledge the outcomes and educate yourself on your impact.

When does what we say differ from what others understand?

There are many examples of how something, on the surface, can seem like an innocuous comment. However, we must consider the historical context of what we are saying. Language is both constantly changing but also comes from a historical lineage; just because your common understanding of a term or phrase doesn’t acknowledge this history does not mean that the history is gone. Be incredibly intentional in the language you use, from both problematic implications about a marginalized community to explicitly appropriative/exclusionary rhetoric. Being intentional in language and communication is not only a vital allyship skill, but also generally for making your relationships better.

Who has the right to determine if we’re being an ally?

Ultimately, despite our intentions and motivations, we do not determine if we are truly allies. We should always be striving to be better, do better, but if someone with a marginalized identity doesn’t believe you, it’s their right. We shouldn’t be offended or try to argue because this is not necessarily a commentary on us personally; it often stems from their experiences with others who have similar identities as ours and/or who have claimed to be an ally. As a legitimate form of self-protection, people from marginalized communities have every right to be skeptical. Don’t try to protest or prove it to them, continue working on your own allyship journey and learn more about what causes this skepticism.