Welcome to week 2!
An ally is someone who supports someone else. In the context of social justice, allies support people and communities who are marginalized, in their struggle for equity, human rights, justice, etc. An ally is not a member of the group they are allied with.
Last week, we started with an overview and specific look at supporting Muslims observing Ramadan.
Over the next 4 weeks we’ll be exploring the acronym ROAR one letter at a time. It’s an acronym I have created as a way to talk about 4 key aspects of being an ally.
The first R stands for: Recognize Privilege.
Privilege doesn’t mean that you’re lucky, that your life has never been difficult, or that you have a lot of money. It means that you have access to opportunities and systems that others do not, and there are things you will never have to think about or worry about, just because of who you are.
There are three things you need to know about privilege.
- Anytime you have an identity that is a dominant group identity (i.e. with social power) you have privilege in that identity. In North America, for example, some of these would be: white, male, able-bodied, middle class and up, heterosexual, Christian, English as a first language (some of these will apply in other parts of the world as well). Because of this, there are different types of privilege: White privilege, male privilege, heterosexual (or straight) privilege, cisgender privilege, etc.
- It’s not easy to notice privilege when you have it, and very easy to notice when you don’t have it.
- You don’t earn it – you just get it by virtue of who you are.
With those in mind, let’s examine why recognizing privilege is an important part of being an effective ally.
Why Allies are Crucial
Allies are important to the struggle because they are not part of the group they are allied with, and therefore have privilege. Marginalized people and groups fighting for their own human rights and against the discrimination, injustice, and inequity they face are often not heard or not taken seriously. But when an ally speaks up or points something out, it’s often a different story – that’s what dominant group status will do for you, and why allies are crucial.
Why Recognizing Privilege is Important as an Ally
Recognizing privilege is important because in order to be an effective ally, you have to notice the barriers that the people you are allied with face on a daily basis, in order to help advocate for change. Some of these barriers are obvious (for example, in 76 countries being LGBTQ is still illegal, and in 10 it is punishable by death). Some are less obvious (like when you identify as LGBTQ and you are getting married and the form says “Bride” and “Groom”).
While one of these is life-threatening, and the other is not – both are examples of barriers LGBTQ people face, and how moving through life is different/not as easy/not as safe. Of course being thrown in jail for who you love is much more serious than crossing out “bride” or “groom” but both are reminders of non-dominant group status in society, and are examples of how some people are not afforded (or have less) human rights. This is true for all marginalized groups: all marginalized groups face barriers in society on a daily basis that range from debilitating to seemingly benign.
Recognizing privilege means understanding what privilege means and what it looks like vis à vis your identities (but particularly the one where you are an ally), recognizing that you have it, and then learning to notice the barriers created by NOT having privilege (again, for all marginalized groups, but particularly for the group you are allied to) so that you can help to reduce and remove them. Keep in mind that these barriers are often invisible to those with privilege, so it can be easy to think they don’t exist.
Recognizing privilege also means that you understand that your privilege affords you opportunity, access and visibility that is important and useful as an ally – and that you can use to help get the word out, educate others, advocate for the rights of the group you are allied with, and support members of that group. Recognizing privilege is also important because it can undermine your efforts as an ally if you are not aware of it and how to use it. We will talk more about this in week 4 when we get to the A (Action) section.
Next week in the ROAR series, we’ll talk about the O.
In the meantime…
PS – If you want an extra challenge, sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insight. We’re covering the same series and you get a challenge each week to practice each letter of ROAR.
PPS – If you’re enjoying the series, and you want to dive in a bit more, sign up for my e-book: Learning to ROAR – Effective Allyship! I’ll send it to you when the series is done. You’ll also be signed up for the Inclusion Insight. You can unsubscribe at any time.