What is E.Q.U.I.T.Y.?
At ASA, we want to promote key principles of allyship for our membership community to follow. To understand these principles, it would be helpful to know how we define “ally.”
ally (ah-lahy), verb:
- A person who operates or cooperates with another;
- A person who commits themselves to dismantling inequitable social norms without ulterior motives or a need for recognition; and,
- Someone who knows when to speak up to educate and advocate, when to use personal privilege to provide a platform for someone else (without any savior-complex mentality), and when to actively listen and support those who are experiencing the inequity.
Allyship works like a timecard; every day you clock-in you are working to fulfill your assigned duties as an ally. Then you clock-out and repeat it all again the next day. This metaphor illustrates that allyship is a verb. An ally is not a title that someone gives themselves; it is the embodiment of equity in the form of action.
Key principles of allyship:
- An ally consistently promotes and embodies inclusive leadership and equitable behaviors/practices;
- An ally understands the necessity of moving beyond diversity initiatives toward human equity; and,
- An ally passionately and actively engages their own communities and continuously works to dismantle oppressive structures.
E.Q.U.I.T.Y. was created to serve as an acronym to remember ASA’s charge to you—a charge to be better so we can cultivate an environment built upon inclusion and advocacy. Please note that while most allies come from dominant/majority groups, many allies come from oppressed groups as well; horizontal/internalized oppression (fighting within groups and/or with ourselves) is a tool implemented by those in power to maintain the status quo.
The moment you stop learning is the moment you die. Sure, this metaphor may seem intense and a little dramatic, yet it highlights just how vital it is to educate yourself on topics pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Let’s face it, we live in a world that is constantly changing and evolving. Daily we are charged with striving to be more inclusive than we were previously. How does one do this when language is evolving? When thought, theory, cultural/political dynamics are shifting to become more equitable? The answer is simple; commit yourself to learning.
Below are a few ways to get started on your continuous journey to learning:
- Understand your identity and how it interacts (and impacts) with society and systems.
- Take stock on what you believe to be true and question it. Often the things we learned in history classes as children are false and/or inaccurate.
- Explore various scholars. Make sure you are learning from scholars who are part of the community in question. Have you read any Black feminist theory? Queer theory? Anything written by native and Indigenous folks? If not, ask yourself why? As a rule of thumb, if you are unsure of where to start, DO NOT immediately go to a friend or colleague that is part of (insert marginalized identity here) and ask them for suggestions. It is not their job to educate you. Google is your friend. If, and only if, you have searched and need more guidance, then, and only then, can you ask your friend or colleague for their suggestions. It is always good to come with some information first, as opposed to setting up the expectation that they will “teach you.”
- If you ask someone for their input or suggestions, that individual is not obligated to provide you answers. This is perfectly okay; do not make this about you.
- If you are the person being asked for personal input or suggestions, you are not responsible for educating the person asking. Do not feel guilty or as if you must help, to represent your community.
- Do not think of learning as a “one and done,” it is continuous and ever evolving.
- Just because you read a book, researched a topic, or attended a webinar, that does not give you a pass to now consider yourself the expert on said topic. Give credit where it is due and do not take up space by speaking for a community of which you are not a part. Sure, you can share your experience in learning about the topic, but before you do, make sure you are providing the space and opportunity for someone else to speak up about their own community.
- If you perceive that a community is not represented, bring it to the conversation and ask if there is a perspective that might be missing. Be cautious here. Do not assume identities in the room. While you may not be an expert, it is important for you to share what you have learned or your experience in learning (without taking up space), so that an opportunity for dialogue presents itself. This can hold us accountable by fact-checking one another, create space for learning, and ensure that communities are not associated with inaccurate storytelling.
- Remind yourself that this is a marathon, not a race.
Question everything you believe to be true all the time.
We have been conditioned as a society to understand the world based on biased, whitewashed, and often incomplete information. We have been taught that there is only one way of thinking and if you deviate outside of that it must be incorrect. By teaching us not to question what we are told and by reinforcing the same inaccurate messages in every aspect of our lives (school, laws, families, peers, music, TV, etc.) we do not change the status quo and inequity remains.
So, start to unpack what you have been taught. What biases have you learned to be true about marginalized groups? Who is in your inner circle—do they all look like you? Why does our nation only celebrate certain holidays? Why do you attribute certain roles and characteristics to someone based upon their gender, race, ability-status, socioeconomic status, etc.?
To achieve equity and to liberate yourself and others, you must question with an open mind.
Before you can advocate for equity, you must understand your own identities and how they can serve as privilege or oppression in different contexts.
Ask yourself, how much space am I taking up in conversations? In the organizations in which I am participating? How much do I know about those with whom I am trying to work and support? What are my assumptions about marginalized persons and how am I actively contributing to their oppression?
Below we outline critical responsibilities you have as an ally in relation to understanding yourself within an oppressive system, provided by The Anti-Oppression Network:
- It is your responsibility to do the intentional self-work to actively acknowledge when you are operating in a position of power that is perpetuating inequity and openly discuss why that is a problem.
- Build a personal capacity to receive criticism and hold yourself accountable for making mistakes.
- Your needs MUST come second to the people with whom you are seeking to work. Recognize that part of the privilege of our identity is that we have a choice about whether or not to resist oppression; we do not expect the people with whom we seek to work to provide emotional support (and we’re grateful if they do).
- Redirect attention to the groups we support, and the issues they face, when any social recognition is given to you.
Allyship is not a title; it is a verb, an action. For example, you cannot say, “I do not stand for racism,” and then be silent when you witness discrimination.
Below are ways that you can involve yourself in the fight for change:
- Advocate for issues related to social justice reform and equity progression.
- Amplify (online and in-person) the voices of those without your same privilege.
- Research histories of marginalized groups and invest in your cultural awareness development.
- Volunteer for nonprofit organizations devoted to social justice reform and equity progression.
These actions can help you recognize and navigate situations where you will need to intervene. Intervention not only requires you to address the problematic incident(s) BUT it requires you to bring attention to the root issue(s) of the incident(s) when implementing change and behavioral correction.
Below are examples of problematic situations that warrant your intervention:
- Offensive identity charged jokes
- Misuse of pronouns/Misgendering someone
Remember that involving yourself in the fight for equity is an ongoing, intentional process. To uphold and advocate for equity, you must continually and consistently remain active.
This work requires constant, consistent and intentional engagement with yourself and others with whom you interact on a daily basis. Just like anything else you aspire to change in yourself or in your environment, you must commit that same time and effort to showing up as an ally and advocating for necessary change.
Transformation is not easy. It is the result of:
- Remaining present when you are uncomfortable;
- Accepting that you are part of the problem so you can work to change it;
- Learning how to empathize with others’ experiences that differ from your own;
- Making mistakes and correcting your behaviors to be better tomorrow;
- Educating yourself and those around you (it is not the burden of the oppressed to teach you); and
- Showing up with thoughtful action that matches your words.
To grow and become a better version of yourself, you must do what you have not done before.
We acknowledge that it is difficult to consciously choose to unlearn everything you have been taught about navigating the world. But you are where the change starts. Hold yourself and those around you accountable. As you continue in this work, operate on the assumption that people are doing their best, most of the time. Remember, you do not know what you do not know; but when you do know, you need to do better—shout out to Maya Angelou.
Have you ever started thinking about how you plan to respond to someone while they are still finishing their sentence? Typically, you start your response with a brief acknowledgement of what they said and then respond with, “BUT...” and carry on with your point; which often goes against what the other person said. It’s safe to assume that we have all done this at some point and are familiar with the action of listening to respond.
You may be thinking, but sometimes our response is to provide the other person additional insight or a new perspective. The intention is not always to shut someone down or poke holes in what they said, instead it is to engage in further dialogue.
While that is a great point, and totally valid, there also are considerations about how it can be beneficial to truly acknowledge someone else’s truth before providing personal input. Seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.
We are not saying do not challenge anyone to consider new thoughts and perspectives. Dialogue is critical to growth. Instead, we are encouraging you to reframe how you think about dialogue. A first step in doing so is to replace “but,” with “yes, and.”
“But” translates into something to which you may object; something that is apart from and/or separate. “And” translates into connecting words or thoughts, adding to something and/or introducing a new thought. While we are talking about this linguistically, it also is a metaphor for reframing your thought processes to become more open-minded and empathetic.
All of our lived experiences are a culmination of our social identities interacting within a system of oppression. Your world view will not look like anyone else’s world view. However, just because you do not have the same perspective or the same lived experiences, that does not make your world view untrue. Traditionally we have been taught that there is only one answer; but, in reality, there are a multiplicity of truths that coexist. Fluidity in thought and understanding is something to appreciate; it allows us to intentionally engage with others and with ourselves.