I am a child of privilege. Pale skin, rosy cheeks and a wide smile can smooth the way to a comfortable place. I was never hungry, always had books to read when I was little, and later computers and then laptops. Nevertheless, fear and suffering has touched my life in a way that motivates me to do what I can to act as an ally and bring to light injustice when I see it.

It’s much easier to make big, bold gestures than it is to do the right thing at the right moment. I don’t always know what to do, but I thought I would write down some ideas of how we might go about being better allies. I’d love to hear ideas from other people too.

  • Name your heroes — seriously make a list of your top ten. If they are mostly one race, class or gender, find some more heroes.
  • If you can’t quickly think of three black people in your profession who you admire, think about making some new friends, and in the meantime, find them in the press. (Hint: you might actually have to look hard, but it’s not that they aren’t there, they’re just less written about) Try the same thought experiment for Latinos or Latinas, Native Americans, or other folks who are under-represented in your peer group or leadership.
  • If someone tells you that something you said sounded racist, apologize and thank them for telling you. (Don’t get defensive. Don’t tell them they took it the wrong way. If you didn’t mean to be racist, think about how you could say it differently next time so there would be no shadow of a doubt.)
  • If you hear something that sounds racist, call them out on it. Don’t wait for the person of color in the room to say something, or ask them if it offended them. You can be offended all by yourself.
  • When you are asked who should be invited to a meeting, think about inviting someone who is black, latino, and whatever other races or cultures are under-represented.
  • If you work in a homogeneous environment, recruit for diversity. If your company can’t or won’t recruit diverse talent, think about working somewhere else.
  • If someone invites you to speak at an event and there are no people of color on the speaker list, suggest someone else. (If you can’t think of someone who would be a great speaker in your stead, do some research and find a few.)
  • Don’t assume you understand someone else’s experience. No matter what color you think they are. Don’t assume race or culture, based on skin color.

2 thoughts on “on being an ally

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