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Trying to be an Ally
by David Turner
We all must make a journey of self awareness
individually and together.
I am a person of privilege. As a white English-speaking,
middle-aged male who is able, heterosexual and middle class,
I rarely have to prove my credibility, credit worthiness and
place of power in society. In fact, these qualities are
accorded to me as if by divine right.
I am a person without the lived experience of racism. I
do not know the daily fear of being rejected, singled out or
attacked because of my skin color, accent, religion or
customs. I am not economically or socially exploited.
Doors of opportunity are not slammed closed in my face.
Accommodation and employment vacancies do not miraculously
disappear when I show up. I do not have to search hard to
find models of myself in the workplace, schools, social
clubs and seats of power.
For those who believe in a more egalitarian and socially
just society, this privilege brings responsibility. Here
are a few ways we can try to be allies with persons
oppressed because of their race. The words of Anne Bishop
in her book Becoming an Ally and the shared thoughts of Jean
Trickey when she visited Victoria last fall echo here.
- We need to speak out against racism and discrimination
when we see and hear it. We are all often uncomfortable in
discussing difference. Sometimes we don't want to be
singled out by the social groups who have accorded us so
many advantages. Other times we feel hyper critical at
speaking out so late in the game. Often we feel paralysed
at our own guilts about our own racist attitudes. We need
to explore the benefits of our silence and truthfully
confront out inertia and complicity.
- We need to remember that we are part of the oppressor
group. Accept our responsibility and convert it into real
energy for making changes, personally and in society.
- We need to truly listen to the pain and experience of
the oppressed person. We can never fully understand it
since this is not our lived experience, but listening with
open hearts and minds can be validating for the victim of
- We need to build solidarity with racially oppressed
persons. Work with them to find safe places of support for
victims of racial harassment. Assist them to find
appropriate advocacy for their concerns. Without
patronizing, include persons of diversity in our social,
recreational, work and professional activity. Be careful not
to takeover their power and leadership. We must work as
- We need to use our power credibility and privilege to
work for change. Name the backlash and resistance when it
inevitably happens. Don't leave it up to the oppressed
group to resist or speak out. we need to exercise our own
responsibility without speaking for others.
- We need to reeducate ourselves and not expect racial
minorities to do it for us. As Ann Bishop says, we must all
be workers in our own liberation struggle. We all must make
a journey of self awareness individually and together.
- We need to find our own places of power and support.
Working across difference to share and resist the collective
experience of oppressions (ableism, ageism, sexism,
classism, heterosexism), we can all find strength to
continue the struggle.
- We need to use our creativity and humour to deal with
these painful issues. Our vision of a fairer and more
collaborative society must entice us forward.
Finally, persons of privilege must face a crucial
question. What power and privilege are we willing to share
or even surrender for a more egalitarian society?
David Turner is an Associate Professor at the School
of Social Work, University of Victoria.
RACISM: "...AN EMOTIONALLY RIGID ATTITUDE TOWARD
A GROUP OF PEOPLE. IT INVOLVES NOT ONLY PREJUDGMENT BUT...
MISJUDGMENT AS WELL. IT IS CRITICAL THINKING THAT
SYSTEMATICALLY MISINTERPRETS THE FACTS." - Wellman,
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