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Have You Heard of Allyship?

“For to be free

Is not merely to cast off one’s chains,

But to live in a way that respects and enhances

the freedom of others.”

Nelson Mandela

I love words and was delighted to find that there are “Words of the Year” chosen by the lexicon people (dictionary writers) every year. Not surprisingly the 2020 Word of the Year, according to dictionary.com, was “pandemic.”

The 2021 Word of the Year is “Allyship.”

Many people stand together locking hands

What Does Allyship Mean?

Dictionary.com defines Allyship like this: allyship (noun): the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.

In such a tumultuous year, the chosen word is extremely late, and many dollars short. Allyship is a word that challenges us to consider how we are showing up for those unlike ourselves. What shouts the loudest in this definition is that Allyship asks us to advocate for those with whom we DO NOT share membership.

It is easy to be there for members of our “in-group.” They are the familiar folks with whom we are comfortable. We tend to talk like our in-group, eat like them, dress like them, and go to the same places they go. Our familiars do not interfere with our sense of safety. They do not need our allyship. The marginalized folks do.

So, who are the marginalized? Going back to definitions, the marginalized are groups that experience exclusion and discrimination because of who they are. They have less power than members of the majority. Their members are the out-group and include racial, and cultural minorities, the LGBT community, those who are physically challenged, women, and seniors. Often those who are marginalized remain invisible until the need to be seen reaches critical mass. It is not a coincidence that the etymology (history) of the word violence, vis, means “to be seen.

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Martin Luther King
Portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King. What is Allyship blog post.

Paradoxically, the demand to be seen does not result in an invitation from the in-group. The marginalized do not possess the power to open doors and assume a seat at the in-group’s table. The invitation MUST come from those already there because membership is always at the behest of the member. To be an ally begins with acknowledging the need to be seen. It means sending the invitation, opening the door, and setting a place at the table.

Here is an example of allyship: Sydney Portier spoke of not being able to read, which was costing him numerous opportunities to advance his acting career. At the restaurant where he was a dishwasher, a Jewish waiter offered to stay after the place closed and teach Mr. Poitier to read.

How Can I Be An Ally?

If you are reading this then you have already expressed an interest in being an ally to marginalized members of society. Wanting to be an ally is not intuitive to being one.

If you are a member of the in-group here are a few ways you can be a good ally.

  • Educate yourself
    • Get curious about what you do not know about those unlike yourself.
    • Get more curious about yourself. What advantage comes with who you are?
    • Avoid looking for the marginalized to explain their situation to you. Their story will not travel up the power hierarchy.
  • Use your voice; it is your power
    • Speak up when you hear casual jokes that discriminate or stereotypes others.
    • Speak loudly when the majority is making decisions that impact many without full representation in the decision-making process.
  • Have a new experience
    • Eat something from a culture you have never tasted.
    • Read a book about marginalized people.
    • Patronize minority-owned businesses in your community

Consider Martin Luther King Day as your call to action. Allyship is defined doing something. What are you going to do?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” Martin Luther King

Be an Ally, Work in Solidarity

Contact Marilyn Stein at MGS Consulting to help you develop a customized Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program that meets your needs.