From January Newsletter 2016
What is an Ally? by Ann Franek
"Being an ally is something you do, it isn’t a title you earn. It means supporting and standing up for the rights and dignity of individuals and identity groups other than their own. But on the terms of the people from that group!" Diane Goodman
Before I started pursuing my MSW at the University of Denver I would have considered myself an ally. However, a lecture in my Power, Privilege, and Oppression class on "ally ship" challenged me to take a deeper look at my actions as an ally.
Our assignment that week was to read a chapter called Allies and Action from a book called "Promoting Diversity and Social Justice" by Diane Goodman. The chapter includes information about qualities of an effective ally, ally development, creating change and options for action, barriers to taking action, and overcoming barriers to action. I had no idea the depth of ally ship!
The part of the chapter that really had an impact on my ally development was about responding to biased or offensive comments. Here is something we can all relate to! We’ve just come out of the holiday season where you might have found yourself in one of these situations with family members visiting, co-workers at holiday parties, or even spending time with friends. How do you respond to biased or offensive comments?
Goodman states, "Your response depends on context: Consider the goal (vent your emotion or change the person’s perspective), tone (non-confrontational/non-judgmental), consider your relationship with that person, context/setting determines if response should be private/public."
Thinking back on countless times I’ve heard offensive comments, especially in my Navy career, I chose not to say anything. This gives the impression that either I agree or just don’t care. Neither is true, however, I am an introverted, non-confrontational person so I remain silent. I still considered myself an ally???… Huh, interesting…So I thought, "What good am I being an ally if I don’t take action and speak up about my beliefs?"
Goodman suggests many different responses, but I will just name a few.
1. Ask for more information…."I’m wondering where you got that idea from?"
2. Express empathy first…"You sound frustrated about…"
3. Challenge the stereotype…Provide information to offer an alternative way of viewing the situation. "I’ve gotten that impression from the news too, but what I’ve seen…"
4. Express your feelings…"When I hear things like this it makes me feel…"
5. Play dumb…Force the person to think about their comments. "I’m confused, what did their identity have to do with your story?"
Thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, I am challenging my non-confrontational self to step up and try to respond to these comments by challenging the stereotype. What’s the worst that could happen?
As we start our journey in this New Year, I invite you to think about who you are as an ally. How would you respond to biased or offensive comments? Having self-awareness is an effective quality for an ally and a great start to knowing how YOU will respond! Remember there is no one right way to respond. Good luck on your journey of becoming an effective ally!
Goodman, Diane J. Promoting diversity and social justice: Educating people from privileged groups. Routledge, 2011.