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Educational Activism
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Becoming an Ally

Source: Adams, M., Bell, L., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1997). Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook.

How to use this tool

This tool can be used to plan as well as reflect upon your activist work. Part of doing activist work is connecting work with other communities who may be marginalized in ways with which you may not be familiar. Activist work involves recognizing and valuing the experiences of others. Sometimes activists are in a position of privilege, and this tool will provide some terms, characteristics, and starting points to support you as you work to become an ally to marginalized groups. 

What is an Ally?

An ally is a member of the agent social group who takes a stand against social injustice directed at targeted groups (e.g., White people who speak out against racism, men who are anti-sexist).  An ally works to be an agent of social change rather than an agent of oppression.  When a form of oppression has multiple target groups, as do racism, ableism, and heterosexism, target group members can be allies to other targeted social groups they are not part of (lesbians can be allies to bisexual people, African Canadian people can be allies to Native Canadians, blind people can be allies to people who use wheelchairs).

Characteristics of an Ally

  • Feels good about own social group membership; is comfortable and proud of own identity
  • Takes responsibility for learning about own and target group heritage, culture, and experience, and how oppression works in everyday life
  • Listens to and respects the perspectives and experiences of target group members
  • Acknowledges unearned privileges received as a result of agent status and works to eliminate or change privileges into rights that target group members also enjoy
  • Recognizes that unlearning oppressive beliefs and actions is a lifelong process, not a single event, and welcomes each learning opportunity
  • Is willing to take risks, try new behaviours, act in spite of own fear and resistance from other agents
  • Takes care of self to avoid burn-out
  • Acts against social injustice out of a belief that it is in her/his own self-interest to do so
  • Is willing to make mistakes, learn from them, and try again
  • Is willing to be confronted about own behaviour and attitudes and consider change
  • Is committed to taking action against social injustice in own sphere of influence
  • Understands own growth and response patterns and when she/he is on a learning edge
  • Understands the connections among all forms of social injustice
  • Believes she/he can make a difference by acting and speaking out against social injustice
  • Knows how to cultivate support from other allies
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