As more people of privilege learn about systemic oppression, well-meaning folks–or those who find the idea of purposely contributing to injustice abhorrent– have increasingly shown an interest in becoming an “ally”. But being an ally is not just for show, it’s a lifestyle that requires ongoing labor and self-reflection. Here are seven unmistakable signs that you need to reroute your approach to being an ally.
1) Validation drives your work: If you feel slighted when your activism isn’t met by a “thank you” or “well done”, consider your ally card revoked, effective immediately. Furthermore, you’re not entitled to recognition as an “ally”, nor do you get to define whether or not you are one. It’s up to the people you advocate for to decide whether or not that title is suitable.
2) You want to hijack the movement: Do you take up space that should be occupied by members of the communities you champion? If so, fall back. We don’t need non-black NAACP chapter presidents. Cough, cough *RACHEL DOLEZAL*, cough. There’s a fine line between being an ally and having a savior complex. Don’t cross it.
3) You don’t listen: Half of being an activist is using your voice to influence change. The other half is zipping your lip and listening to others’ needs and wishes. Oppression starts when privileged people decide they know what’s best for marginalized folks.
4) Respectability is a condition: If you only interact with the socially refined and educated folks from the communities you endorse, your allyship is a sham.
5) You never check yourself: None of us are perfect. Even the most well intentioned of us slip and fall into some problematic mess now and again. And when we get called on it, it can be embarrassing. But take it as an opportunity to learn something and unpack rather than bulldoze through others’ perspectives to defend your honor.
6) You act scary at the dinner table: If you show out at Black Lives Matter rallies with your “No Justice, No Peace” sign but let crickets sing when your uncle goes on a tirade about white genocide, your allyship is a sham. There’s no such thing as a part-time or seasonal ally.
7) You’re not willing to risk anything: If you’re not willing to sacrifice investments—both personal and professional— that conflict with the values you promote, you’re not an ally. Wearing safety pins and applying photo filters are not acts of solidarity. They’re merely ways for you to publicly signify your (performative) allyship, rather than do meaningful labor.