At the moment, our society, institutions, democracy, personal lives and organizations like Starr Commonwealth are experiencing turbulent times. Times that stem from long developed problems grounded in systems of oppression that have gone unaddressed, or simply ignored since the founding of our nation. As a result, many people have taken steps to make their voices heard through protests, rethinking oppressive societal structures, acknowledging history, and undertaking efforts such as diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging with the ultimate goal of bringing about change.
Whether it is racism, ableism, sexism, classism, sexuality and gender issues, health disparities, wealth disparities, educational disparities, or DEI-B, allyship, or becoming an ally, is a great tool to help bring about change.
What is allyship? Perhaps we should begin by defining what it means to be an ally. Being an ally does not mean sitting on the sidelines waiting for your number to be called (sorry about the sport’s analogy). It means choosing to use your privilege, life experiences and knowledge to advocate for others. “An ally is any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole.” (Allyship – The Key to Unlocking the Power of Diversity, by Sheree Atcheson, Forbes, March 7, 2023) Anyone can be an ally – White people can be actionable allies to BIPOC; men can be allies to women; cis people can be allies to members of the LGBTQIA+ community; able-bodied people can be allies to those who are not, etc. Heck, even Albionities can be allies to Marshallites! One should note that when the concept of “intersectionality” comes into play, another way I would say this is, “when you bring your whole self into the situation” – the power dynamics above can shift, for example, women can be allies to men.
A true ally is a person who backs up their words with action! Martin Luther King, Jr once said that it was not the violence of the few that scared him, it was the silence of the many. An ally’s words and action must be in sync, because words without action do not bring about change, in fact, they can be detrimental, or cause harm. Once again, Dr. King stated that a person dies when they refuse to stand up for that which is right. A person dies when they refuse to stand up for justice. A person dies when they refuse to take a stand for that which is true. (Selma, AL, March 8, 1965)
In Starr’s Glasswing training, becoming an ally is viewed as a way to bring about healing. It is a commitment to:
- Taking the time to review one’s own personal history with regard to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
- Developing the ability to objectively listen to the anger and hurt of another person without taking it personally, knowing that the hurt may come from a long history of injustice and frustration.
- Being able to listen and find the fear in a person who is acting out how they have been conditioned in light of a lack of diversity, inequity, exclusion and constant and relentless questioning of their humanity and their whole selves.
- Continuing to educate oneself on what is currently happening with others in our world.
- Learning how to risk making mistakes and to change mistakes into growth experiences.
- Becoming aware of our implicit biases, and making consistent efforts to bring them into our consciousness in order to overcome them.
- Forming appropriate DEI-B support groups.
- Intervening in/interrupting situations where something harmful is being said or occurring in a safe or non-judgmental manner.
- Making the decision and taking action to establish meaningful relationships with people of different backgrounds and experiences allowing one to overcome our societal patterns toward separation.
(Glasswing Transformation GUIDEBOOK, Starr Commonwealth 2015, revised in 2018 by Christi Barrett and Kenneth Ponds, pg. 62)
Allyship then is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability. Allyship understands that we do not define our own work and efforts. Our work and efforts must be recognized by those we are seeking to ally with. And we must take opportunities to grow and learn about ourselves, while building confidence in others. Allyship is a continual investment in time, supporting others, and holding ourselves accountable when mistakes are made. Allyship also calls for flexibility when there is a need for change in our relationships, or situations.
In conjunction with DEI-B, allyship within Starr might look something like this—Starr Commonwealth itself becomes an ally.
- Starr would use it’s privilege and power to identity, sponsor or support someone already within, or someone becoming a member of, the Starr family who has experienced in their lives a lack of diversity, inequity, exclusion, or who has been hesitant to bring their whole self into the organization.
- As an ally Starr would call out unacceptable behavior towards underrepresented persons within the organization.
- As an ally Starr would make use of inclusive language.
- As an ally Starr would regularly implement trainings focused on issues of DEI-B such as racism, implicit bias, and sexuality with the understanding that this is an ongoing and never-ending process of growth and learning.
- As an ally Starr must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations regarding systemic oppression within our society and how it impacts individuals, communities, our nation and our future.
In conclusion, a true ally–Starr included–must regularly listen to those around them; adapt their thinking; rework what they believe to be acceptable and correct; and become comfortable with being uncomfortable.