This weekend, I participated in Afro-Latinx-American Society’s (Af-Lat-Am) Black Lives Matter Vigil, and I wasn’t surprised by the turnout. While I understand that the weather may have deterred people, out of the entire student body, only 60 students were present. These were the same 60 or so students that show up to many events regarding social justice: mostly underrepresented students of color or members of varying minority groups. In noticing who attends these events, I have also noticed a lack of involvement by many allies, in particular white allies. This lack of involvement spans far beyond the vigil. It extends to failing to call out peers on offensive jokes or microaggressions on and off campus. We must recognize the importance of allyship in terms of building a sense of community and bringing about change. Allyship is necessary to the success of establishing equality, yet we can not do that if allies are not present. If you are an ally to any marginalized group, it is important that you understand and use your privilege to support and advocate them.
As a black girl, I don’t have the choice of when I want to feel different or when I have to deal with an uncomfortable experience — I have become accustomed to these feelings. On the other hand, I have found that some white allies choose when they do or don’t want to advocate for others. Advocating doesn’t necessarily mean going out and marching in front of the White House; small actions from acknowledging a member of a minority group or optionally attending a lecture about a topic around identity can have an effect on people. From personal experience, I gain a sense of hope when people who aren’t marginalized choose to engage in conversations and ask questions about issues that won’t directly affect them. When allies engage in discussion, their behavior promotes others to participate, especially because of the power their voices hold, because of their privilege.
To be an ally is to speak up when you hear people, including your friends, making offensive jokes or using microaggressions. This entails paying attention to your own actions and ensuring that you “practice what you preach” and that you “check your privilege.” To be an ally, you do not have to be white. You can be a black ally, cis-gender, heterosexual, or Muslim. There is more than one marginalized group that needs and deserves support, and social justice doesn’t stop at one group.
To be an ally entails putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. On occasion, I’ve noticed that some white allies are comfortable engaging with me in conversations relating to social justice in one-on-one settings, yet they choose to ignore these topics when in larger groups or among their peers. An ally does not necessarily have to be the spokesperson for every group; that is not their job, just as it is not the job of members of marginalized groups to be the spokesperson for their groups. An ally’s job is to advocate and support marginalized groups using their privilege with the intentions of spreading awareness and establishing equality, and that comes with putting oneself out there.
My hope is that allies realize their job and begin to participate more. My hope is that allies, white, black, heterosexual, Muslim, and others will come together in not just supporting one cause but all causes that promote equality. As allies we must start small: ask questions, go to a CAMD scholar or Brace fellow presentation, or engage in conversations with a friend or someone you don’t know about topics like race, gender, or mental health. If you want to take big steps, participate in a march or protest, find platforms to voice your support, or go around to people in your community and spread awareness. No matter how big or small, you have the ability to make a difference. If we unite as allies and marginalized groups, then we will be stronger in our fight towards equality and justice.
Keely Aouga is a two-year Lower from Newark, N.J.