Actions speak louder than words. This includes the actions of those who call themselves allies. With the increase of social justice issues matched with the growth of social movements to combat them, individuals who are not directly oppressed by these problems are labeling themselves as allies to those who are in attempt to show solidarity.
First of all, an ally cannot be self-titled. This takes away from the validity that can only be substantiated by showing that you are an ally, rather than just saying so. Those who are true allies should not prioritize the fact they consider themselves as allies because it is not an identity, it is a choice. Their priority should be promoting and supporting the social movements that encourage progress. Saying you are an ally carries a tone of privilege. Allies who are quick to claim that they are one make it seem like a backhanded compliment. They address that they are here to support the cause but are still different from the individuals they are attempting to support. This should not matter if their intentions are to show genuine support. This is what makes the word “ally” seem empty. As a friend of mine put it, it sounds like you came to the party just to eat the cake.
An example of this would be the safety pin trend following the 2016 election results, that originally started after Brexit. This was literally wearing privilege as these pins were meant to signify solidarity with the marginalized groups who were largely affected by the election. It is important to note this silent protest was just a “trend.” Trends come and go, but social justice issues do not. This trend was an ineffective way to combat large and systemic issues and a failed attempt to take the easy way out. Wearing a safety pin does not even begin to scratch the surface of the work that needs to be done. Neither does adding a filter to your profile picture on Facebook.
Without feeling the need to have gratification and confirmation to complete actions, the ideal ally would do the following:
Make sure they have actions to complement words. Don’t just practice what you preach when you are in the presence of those who are like-minded or who you claim to support. Holding yourself accountable and being consistent would show true dedication to the cause. Allies have a different platform and are able to reach audiences that marginalized communities may not able to.
Stay informed and inform others. Just don’t be an ally because it is what’s everybody is doing at the moment. Allies should always be advocating even after all the hype surrounding an issue has died down. Allies need to be just as vocal about issues as the communities they claim to be supporting. Allies still need to have conversations and prioritize listening to learn or understand rather than listening to respond. Allies can’t be silent.
Allies need to understand the spotlight is not for them nor will it focus on them being an ally. An issue with the ally movement is failing to recognize the needs of the communities that are being advocated for. To be an ally is beyond the ally’s individual needs. An ally is meant to represent a cause or belief. While their motives to support may be individualistic, their actions are contributing to a collective entity.
Lastly, to be an ally requires balance. It is important to know the context of the social movement and when it is okay to take charge or the back seat. There is no correct way to find a perfect balance of this, but allies should be able to adjust to the needs of the social movement without compromising their integrity and having a negative effect on the cause.
While the intentions may be good, the word “ally” should not be thrown around carelessly. It carries a lot of potential for action, but following through with these actions is where the true value in this label is. Individuals who deem themselves as an ally to social movements should match their intentions with acting upon them. Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk—or march the march.