- Sharon's Anti-Racism Newsletter
- Revisiting Allyship
Why I still like Michelle MiJung Kim’s definition
Allyship sometimes gets a bad rap, because far too many people have assigned themselves the label based on doing the bare minimum. As my African-American friends would say: nah, that ain’t it, fam!
When I think about what allyship looks like - how I’ve experienced it - I come back to Michelle MiJung Kim’s definition from her excellent book, The Wake Up (you can read my review of The Wake Up here).
There’s a lot in that short sentence. For me, the “active and consistent practice” bit is key. Allyship isn’t something you pick up today and put down tomorrow when it gets “too hard”. Instead, it’s something you do even when it’s hard, even if you make mistakes, even if you don’t get the response you expected or wanted. You keep getting up and trying to do better.
“Using power and privilege to achieve equity” is also key, though these days my focus is on getting to equality. It’s about recognising where you can make a positive difference and doing so. I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from some of that, getting help with everything from my book cover to some super useful marketing and public speaking tips. (You know who you are - and thank you again.)
But the final part is perhaps the most important bit to keep in mind. “Holding ourselves accountable to marginalized people’s needs”. That means letting who face isms lead or guide equality efforts and define what they need while allies offer support. Allies don’t have to be in charge or the loudest voices in the room - after all, isn’t that how we got into some of the messes we’re in now?
At a workshop I attended some time back, one of the participants talked about empathy in allyship, and said “when we cry, you cry”. That was powerful, though let’s make the distinction clear between tears of empathy and tears of discomfort.
Finally, Michelle MiJung Kim asks this question in chapter 11:
“Instead of asking, ‘What can I do to achieve equity and justice?’ what if we asked, ‘What am I willing to give up?’”
It’s a powerful reminder that sometimes allyship means sacrifice, whether that’s sacrificing your silence, your comfort or some of your money.
How would you answer that question today? Has that changed since you became an active anti-racist?
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