“Ally” is not a title you give yourself, but something to strive for as it takes constant education and action.
We have seen that racial injustice, prejudice, violence, and discrimination are still very active in the US. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others, have motivated people to fight for the lives of those who are discriminated against. People have taken to social media and to organizations, as well as picked up their phones to demand justice. In this way, people are working to be effective allies.
Due to the nature of social media, it is easy to post and forget. To post and move on. This movement of anti-racism is different. Passive and performative activism is not what will make a change.
There has been an increase in awareness of the word “ally.” People are defining themselves as one while not fully working to live up to the weight of the responsibility. I’d like to throw out an example of someone who demonstrates what it means to be an ally in times of injustice.
Juliette Hampton Morgan was a white woman born to a privileged family in Montgomery, Alabama.
During her life, she struggled with crippling anxiety. As a result, she was unable to drive a car. Instead, she took public transportation to her job as a public school teacher and librarian. It was on the buses that she began to see prejudice against African American men and women.
Angered by what she had witnessed, she began to write letters to the local newspaper. Morgan condemned the horrible behavior targeted at African American passengers, stating her beliefs of segregation to be wrong. She expressed that the city of Montgomery needed to do something about it. As a result of her openness of her feelings, Morgan lost her job. To put her actions into perspective, Juliette Hampton Morgan began writing these letters in 1939. This was 16 years before the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.
As a form of protest, Juliette Morgan would pull the emergency cord each time she witnessed an African American pay their fare to be then left behind before they could re-enter at the back of the bus. This gave them a chance to get back on. Bus drivers began to harass Morgan as a result, and other white passengers would ridicule her. Even her family began to judge her actions as they felt they had a reputation to uphold. Morgan lost relationships due to her outspokenness. However, she used her privilege to fight for the rights of African Americans and to end segregation.
Do the research, stay informed, listen.
It is a privilege to be able to turn away. Social media makes it so easy to put the phone down and have moments where life goes on normally. But those who experience these injustices every day do not have that privilege. An ally is not a title you give yourself. Allyship is something to strive for as it takes constant education and action. Juliette Hampton Morgan put in the effort to fight for the rights of others through constant actions.
Listen to the voices of marginalized people and help to amplify them. Educate yourself rather than expecting marginalized groups to educate you. Learn about organizations you can support to help make a change. Sign petitions to bring awareness to the causes you feel strongly need to be addressed. These are just a fraction of the things you can do to work on your allyship skills. Here are a few resources to check out to expand your knowledge on allyship. Again, this is just a starting point, and there are many other resources out there to look into.
A few resources:
- The Guide to Allyship: Created by Amélie Lamont, this website serves as a public guide on how to be a better ally. The site breaks down important points on the importance of allyship.
- Screaming in the Silence: How to be an ally, not a savior | Graciela Mohamedi | TEDxBeaconStreet: A Ted Talk given by Graciela Mohamedi. She is one of the founders of March for Our Lives Boston and has helped to organize many other marches since 2016. Her talk addresses how allyship has been taken as an excuse to speak for others rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. She sheds light on how this interpretation of allyship needs to be addressed and changed.
- Understanding My Privilege | Sue Borrego | TEDxPasadenaWomen: Sue Borrego gives a Ted Talk about understanding privilege and how it can help us make real change in our communities.
Juliette Hampton Morgan took action to bring awareness to the struggles of the African American men and women she witnessed being mistreated by continuing to speak up even when met with strong opposition. Working on being an ally does not mean knowing the right thing to do all of the time. Mistakes will be made, but it is more important to learn from them. From The Guide to Allyship, “Being an ally doesn’t necessarily mean you fully understand what it feels like to be oppressed. It means you’re taking on the struggle as your own.”