On Saturday, January 21, 2017 we will march in solidarity with other communities around the globe to raise our voices to reject the racist and misogynistic messages that thrived during the US election in 2016. We will be there to advance the rights of ALL women everywhere.
This event calls on all of us, regardless of gender or where we are from, to consider what it means to be an ally. It asks us to consider our experiences in relation to others and how we can best support the work and activism of people and communities who experience oppression.
But here is where we so often get it wrong. We may feel confident that our values alone warrant our claim to the title of ally. Our intentions may be well-founded. “I believe all people are equal.” Our goals may seem just and fair. “All people should be represented and have a voice.” We may sincerely want to make a difference. “This is wrong and I want to make it right. I want to help.”
But there is just so much more to it. Values alone are simply not enough. “Ally” is not a description we give ourselves, but one given to us by those who experience oppression. It’s not a title to claim and wear, or add to the ways we self-identify. So what does it mean to be an ally? It’s the awareness that our own privilege is reflected in our actions. It means we acknowledge that people experience the world in different ways. It requires changing our behaviours to turn the spotlight away from ourselves and toward those who may not often have a platform. Allyship is a combination of awareness and continued action and must be affirmed by the group you support.
Exploring how to be an ally isn’t always easy. It challenges how we see ourselves and how we identify. It compels us to confront our own relationship to privilege and examine how we may be holding, maintaining, or perpetuating structures of power and privilege that hold other people back. Privilege is something many of us are born into and not equally shared. As a direct result of my gender, I know there are certain barriers that I face that men simply don’t. But there are other parts of my reality – my ethnicity, body size and shape, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and physical abilities that provide me with more privilege than other women. And that can be a really uncomfortable truth to confront.
It is in the discomfort of acknowledging who has privilege and who doesn’t, that I find a sense of accountability and responsibility. In the knowing, I can act in ways that communicate this acknowledgement to those around me.
To be an ally is a radical act – to step back and listen, to ask another person to take the stage, to allow another to go first. To be an ally is first and foremost an adjective, used by individuals or communities who experience oppression to describe someone who both acknowledges the privilege they hold and acts in ways that allow and support others to have their voices heard.
So on January 21, 2017 I will march. I will march with hundreds of people whose experiences with power, privilege, and oppression are different than mine. But I will be marching at the back, so those from our most marginalized and oppressed communities can be seen, be heard, and be supported.
-by Kate McIntyre
Kate McIntyre is a Health Educator with Women’s Health Clinic. She is also on the organizing committee for the Women’s March on Washington – Winnipeg.