“So please, Emily. Tell me, honestly how I can help [people of color]. I’m open to any and all suggestions,” a white, cis, straight male friend said to me via Facebook chat. Our conversation centered on the The Allyship Dilemma: I care and want to help, but I don’t know how to help. I responded to the question with three pieces of advice: check your privilege, be engaged and actively use your “platform of privilege.”
These actions constitute, in my opinion, a solid ally. Though I am still working on my own allyship, I think it is worthwhile to give my opinion and state that allyship is not as easy as tossing around hashtags like #insolidaritywithMizzou or #ConcernedStudent1950. Allyship takes effort, showing up, listening to those directly affected and steady introspection.
I don’t want to strike the tone of a condescending, holier-than-thou activist, nor do I want to be a lecturing curmudgeon. Nevertheless, this is not an article promoting color blindness or #AllLivesMatter. Both of those concepts hamper progress and detract from being an effective ally, which begins with checking your privilege. I think this is the most important step, seeing that one can’t even reach steps two and three otherwise. Checking your privilege means to be cognizant of the benefits you innately receive. Privilege is not something that you ask for; it’s something that society automatically gives you. I come from an affluent family. There’s no use in my denying this. I need to be aware that my financial privilege has allowed me opportunities not everyone has — vacations, eating out and being able to rely on my parents. Checking your privilege, whatever that may be, is an ongoing process. It’s not a one time deal, but a daily choice.
Second, if you are someone who wants to help, be engaged by staying up to date in current events, researching past ones and listening to marginalized and historically oppressed groups. For example, as someone who is Asian, I don’t understand what it’s like to be a Black person. I do not live through the everyday micro- and macro-aggressions they do. It’s not my place to tell Black people how to organize their movement. When I go into a Black Student Alliance meeting, I am solely there to listen.
Finally, turn your privilege into a platform to benefit the marginalized group. In the context of the movement taking root at Occidental and campuses nationwide, that platform largely involves talking to other white people — maybe students or friends who wouldn’t listen as openly if it was a person of color. For example Jackson Katz, a feminist anti-rape speaker and educator, uses his platform as a man to speak and reach hyper-masculine audiences. His masculinity grants him the privilege to reach an audience in a way women may not be able to. Proper allyship expedites progress.
I want to emphasize that it takes more than these three steps. Actions such as admitting when you are wrong are also instrumental to being an ally. Remember: it’s okay to mess up as long as you are working toward becoming a better ally. Accountability will help you improve and learn.
Even so, I write this article with a heavy heart because I’m frustrated that the onus of explaining allyship has to fall on a person of color. Activism over the current events at the University of Missouri should not be delegated to students of color. And yet it is. We aren’t in a post-racial society. It’s 2015, but there clearly is unfinished business to do, and the publication of this article is proof of that. With all the educational resources available at our fingertips, the burden should not fall on people of color to inform the masses. I have been criticized for being too sensitive multiple times upon sharing my experiences as a person of color. I imagine that other people of color are frustrated by the excruciating amount of patience it takes to justify their feelings.
Moreover, educating the majority on racial issues often entails rehashing traumatic or triggering experiences. I wish I didn’t have to replay each “chink,” “ching-chong-chang,” “You’re pretty for an Asian,” “Do my math homework” or “Relax, I’m just joking” statement for someone to understand why racism still exists. It shouldn’t take tears from a person of color to make someone care, yet it appears that we have reached that point, and even at those tears it would seem some aren’t reacting.
Emily Gao is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at email@example.com.