I grew up in the small town of Fontanelle, Iowa, where the population was 660 and the level of diversity was practically zero. I was friends with less than five BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals.

When I moved out to attend college, my eyes were opened — for the first time, I saw true diversity. I befriended a number of people in the LGBTQ+ community in my Eco Arts & Media class, and I eagerly learned about pronouns, transitioning, and queer identities with their help. While I admittedly struggled initially with fully grasping the importance of pronouns, it didn’t take long for me to catch on. I slowly but surely became comfortable with asking others their pronouns, initiating conversations that I would’ve previously deemed “difficult” or would have avoided altogether, and embracing all those who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.

Later, when the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder struck, it set in that I wasn’t doing enough — treating my BIPOC and LGBTQ+ friends well simply wasn’t cutting it; I needed to take action. As I saw the responses that swirled around campus and across Iowa at large — white lives matter signs, blue lives matter T-shirts, Black Student Union meetings being hacked by racist white students — it lit a fire in me, and I began by attending the on-campus protest in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

I dove headfirst into allyship, the practice of educating and emphasizing the importance of racial issues and injustices, as well as supporting anti-racism efforts through action. Racial allyship is not an identity, and it’s not a one-and-done process; instead, it’s continuous, lifelong work that involves learning, educating others, staying abreast of the latest issues and ensuring that your actions reflect upon your values at all times. I read articles, like How to be an Ally, Midwest White Supremacy, and Race in the Midwest, participated in sometimes uncomfortable conversations with my peers and friends, and watched videos to ensure that I was being the best friend and ally that I could possibly be. 

Now, I’m a member of the DE&I group here at Bayard. I purposefully take part in hard discussions, push myself to continuously grow within the context of allyship, and have learned some valuable lessons about what it truly means to be an ally — and not to simply perform like one.

Throughout this experience, I’ve learned the following:

Listen more than you speak.

If you haven’t experienced any form of discrimination such as racism and homophobia, it’s important that you don’t try to speak on behalf of people who have. Be there to support and amplify their voices — listen, learn, and speak up when appropriate.

Don’t assume you know everything.

You probably don’t, and that’s ok. Over time, you can gain more knowledge and continue to grow in your understanding. But putting unrealistic expectations on yourself to know everything now is not healthy, and no one is expecting you to comprehend all of the language, issues and experiences related to the topic.

Don’t get defensive when you don’t know everything. 

Again, listen, learn, and move forward. Be open to hearing others’ points of view and ask questions when you need to.

Remember that being an ally isn’t about your feelings. 

Don’t attempt to focus on yourself and your own feelings. What’s most important is that you are considerate of others and what they experienced, so don’t take it personally if someone calls you out on a mistake or a lack of understanding, and certainly don’t make it about yourself and how you feel wronged. Everyone should be seeking to learn and grow together, selflessly.

Don’t expect to be rewarded or praised for not being racist, homophobic, etc.

Again, being an ally isn’t about you, and not being racist is the bare minimum. Spend time reading, listening to podcasts, filtering through non-partisan news, and taking action because you have a deep desire to make a difference and do what’s right, not because you want to be recognized for it.

Being an ally is a continuous process, and I’m still learning every day. I encourage anyone who feels like they’re in a position to become an ally to do the same. Don’t sit on the sidelines; this is the time to take action. Small steps and contributions lead to big results — don’t you want to be a part of changing the world? 

To learn more about allyship and why it matters, consider checking out the following resources: The Guide to Allyship by Amélie Lamont and The Importance of Being an Ally.

 

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