If there’s anything we as a society have learned in 2020, it’s how precious human life is. This was brought to the forefront by the pandemic—hundreds of thousands of lives lost and each and every person’s own story.
But 2020 brought another discussion into the social spotlight: understanding and defining privilege. The Black Lives Matter movement and protests that erupted over police violence all over the country revealed previously unheard stories of oppression that had long ago been swept under the rug and completely disregarded. Now that many people realize how bad it is for some, they want to do better. They want to have a society and country where all marginalized people, Black, brown, Indigenous, people of color (BBIPOC) and LGBTQ+ can flourish and be respected. They want to become allies.
The word ally gets thrown around a lot. I hear people say that to me as a queer, nonbinary person all the time. People will say to me, “I’m an ally.” Of course, I think that’s great, but I do always wonder what that person means compared to what I mean when I say I’m an ally to BBIPOC. Though sometimes I will inevitably fail, I’m committed to it for the rest of my life.
Because of the work and speaking engagements I do regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, I speak frequently on what it means to be an ally. If you’re reading this and saying, “I want to be an Ally! I really do!” Great, you’re in the right place. Let’s talk about what I mean when I say I’m an ally. It’s not for show, and it’s not to make myself feel better. Being an ally means engaging in efforts to truly make changes in this society and support and advocate for people with less privilege than I have.
An ally is a person of one social identity group, usually the dominant group, who stands in support of members of another group being discriminated against and treated unfairly. An ally is more than someone who is sympathetic to people experiencing discrimination; they’re more than someone who simply believes in equality. Being an ally means being willing to act with and for others in the pursuit of ending oppression and creating equality. It means making a lifelong commitment to constantly learning, examining yourself and your own thoughts, and using the privilege that you have to make a difference.
Good, because we desperately need you, all of you, to step up and help make this a better world for those screams that, for far too long, have been considerately ignored. For the next year in this new series, I’ll be giving you concepts that will further empower you to be an ally in your sphere of influence every day. I’m excited for us to be on this journey together; let’s make this a better world!
Sandy Eichel is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Speaker and Consultant.