Allyship is part and parcel to achieving greater social awareness and change in our society. In order to better challenge some of the harmful beliefs that are common in our culture, allies are needed to help further critical dialogue and mobilize towards social progress.

We break down the importance of allyship in two ways: Defining Allyship, and Rules For Allies.

Defining Allyship

(The following information is gleaned from The Anti-Oppression Network)

Allyship is an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people

Allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.

Rules For Allies

(The following is gleaned from Cynthia Lin's Rules For Allies)

RULE #1: Listen.  REALLY listen.

Be genuine in seeking to learn from the experiences of other people, as they understand them. REALLY listening can be difficult, because often it seems like or it MAY BE that you and your community are being called out as responsible for oppression.  Often, natural reactions are guilt, shame, fear, and defensiveness; see Rule #2…

RULE #2:  It’s not about you.

It’s not about you, so take the ego out of the picture, and deal with your own defensiveness. Often we spend a lot of energy to prove ourselves as “not those oppressors” to really be useful as allies. “My partner is a person of color, so I can’t be racist.” “I hung out with some gay people last night, so…” It’s not about you, so check your need to assert yourself. Step back, let go of power and control.  Delve into the uncomfortable spaces, and be curious.

RULE #3:  It’s all about you!

Too often the work is outward when it needs to be inward.  We can fall into the trap of changing others and changing institutions but not changing ourselves. Center your own healing and UN-learning, and understand your own power and privilege. That means also reckoning how we may have benefited from systems of oppression at the expense of others—education, health care, having the freedom to express our identity as we choose.

RULE #4:  Do the work “at home”

Educate and work within your sphere of influence (family, friends, co-workers, etc.).  Be willing to “put your body on the line,” risk yourself to hold others in your own community accountable.

RULE #5: Don’t go it alone.

Create communities for educating yourselves, taking action, and holding each other accountable.

RULE #6: Learn about history: Understand legacies of oppression AND of resistance.

Ground your work in knowledge of what has happened historically and the ongoing legacies of oppression that we are still seeing today in our institutions and the ways we relate to each other.  Understand and follow the leadership of the forms of resistance, through which communities have organized to defend themselves against injustice.  Know that communities are capable of creating and have created their own responses.  If we fail to do so, our solutions are often paternalistic and repeat the oppressive power dynamics.

RULE #7: “To hell with good intentions…” – Ivan Illich

Sometimes people’s well-intentioned actions are downright harmful and paternalistic. 

 RULE #8: Remember that all struggles are connected

Too often, “divide-and-conquer” forces pit movements against each other.  For example, some class struggles have been seen as largely ‘white-led’ and pitted against anti-racist movements, even though their work might target the same root oppressions. We cannot have discussions or actions centered on gender justice without including the unique struggles of trans people, genderqueer people, and women of color.If you are working to combat one particular form of oppression, how can you be an ally to others in other movements?

If you are working to combat one particular form of oppression, how can you be an ally to others in other movements?

The Feminist Humanist Alliance is a national network of women, genderqueer and trans people committed to the principles of humanism and inclusive feminism. We strive for social progress through promoting critical consciousness and direct action.