The path to affecting change is not a direct one. As nice as a linear path, free of obstacles would be, it is unrealistic in practice. Life is full of obstacles that require adjustments in course and speed to achieve meaningful progress. Of course, there always exists a choice to either maintain the current course and speed, regardless of the consequences or simply turn away and give up. Each of us faces a version of this choice daily. No one faces this choice more frequently than our fellow humans who are members of communities systemically marginalized and underrepresented.
It has been 20 years since I last got out of bed and wondered if I would survive the day. It has been seven years since I walked into a restaurant and was told to leave because of my skin color. It has been a year since I wondered if my job would be in jeopardy because of mental health. It has been zero days since members of marginalized communities in America have experienced these, and many other situations. It has been zero days since people who enjoy exceptional privileges have ever had to consider, think about or experience this. Bridging that gap is an exercise in allyship.
While a rare few allies are anointed, most are not. The majority of allies made a decision somewhere along the way to embark on a mission to place the value of inclusive humanity above themselves. Sometimes that decision is self-evident. Sometimes it derives from a traumatic experience. Most of the time it is born out of a greater love. All of the time it is an improvisational and messy process.
For those who may be new to the concept of allyship, or those who would benefit from a refresher, we recommend Learning to be an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds and this wonderful reminder in an excerpt from Jake Orlowitz's 17 Myths About Being an Ally:
Allies are not perfect. Allyship is about action. Action means imperfection, especially in challenging areas with diverse people and complex histories and the vulnerabilities that come from oppression and marginalization.
An ally who stays involved is bound to mess up in small or large ways from time to time. The key is to pause, listen, acknowledge, reflect, and try again. Being an ally is not a shield from messing up and being called out on it. Even good allies with histories of positive interactions can hurt or offend. When this happens, criticism is the communal immune system seeking to repair that hurt. Let the criticism happen and don’t deny or deflect it. Take it in, move on, and work out a better way.
No one really knows how to be a good ally in every moment, because being an ally is a creative, radical approach to changing culture. There’s no formula for this. An ally is inventing and evolving as they practice allyship. Like a jazz musician, an ally learns to play the instrument of their privilege in improvisation with the people and the world around them.
We do hope you'll add your voice and take action to help build a bridge between the fissures that divide our society. We can promise it will be messy. We can promise it will be challenging. We can promise it will expose you to the best and worst of humanity. We can promise that while the process is messy, an inclusive future is possible with the meaningful contributions of every facet of our society.