Progress Over Perfection
We all make mistakes. Accepting others’ mistakes and seeing those as opportunities for education and improvement – that’s what allies do best. It can be frustrating to experience the adversity of diversity and have to educate the majority group on your lived experiences. However, if those most adversely affected by their diversity dimensions are unwilling to meet the majority group where they are in the conversation, we lose the chance to move ahead together. We will remain stagnant and continue to have very little to no change on diversity, much like the past.
Allies show up bravely and vulnerably in the diversity and inclusion conversation. They do not have the answers, they seek to understand as allies. Watch out for these often well-intentioned mistakes as an ally in training.
Make it About You
Early on in the ally Journey, it’s common to be shocked or even horrified by things you didn’t understand or even know prior to engaging as an ally. A few years ago when I first set out to better understand privilege and racism as a potential White ally, I got very upset and emotional about the topic. Learning new facts that I was not educated on and having to unlearn and relearn new facts about the history of racism was deeply disturbing. However, if I had shown up in the conversation with tears and guilt, it would only make the conversation about me. The conversation is about those that are marginalized, not allies.
For someone that might fall into this ally trap, simply call it out. Ask yourself, am I making this about me? Ask someone else stumbling, what if you looked at this from a different perspective, what might that look like? It keeps focus off the ally, and the lens on the person most marginalized instead.
Assume You Understand The Lived Experiences of Others
Another common Pitfall in allyship is once you’re woken up to racism, sexism, classism and more, you want to share your knowledge with the world. Good intentions, unhelpful behavior. Just because you read books on the subject, or listened to a podcast on the subject, or watched documentaries, doesn’t make you the expert. There’s no way that you can fully understand what it’s like to be someone else.
Be mindful of how you show up in the conversation by seeking to understand the lived experiences of others, without telling them you understand their lived experiences. It’s a subtle but important difference. One perspective comes from curiosity, the other implies judgment.
Act Apathetic to Change
One of my least favorite comments when I give a presentation on allyship, is that we’ve come a long way. We’ve made so much progress since the previous generation on diversity. Aside from that being largely untrue, there is still so much work left to be done. Dismissing someone’s own lived experience of discrimination because “we’ve gotten better” – that’s problematic. It minimizes their feelings and it suggests that the status quo is enough. Rather than lean on apathy, lean into the discomfort that comes with accepting the reality that we are not as diverse as we could be. Be mindful of the feelings of others and their unique experiences. Advocate for real change rather than make excuses for the lack of change.