Performative allyship isn’t allyship

September 19, 2019
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photos by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor 

By Ouss Badran, Contributor

cw: mentions of homophobia, transphobia, ableism

A concerning trend that I’ve noticed — especially in more socially aware places such as university — is people adopting the label of “ally” and not actually doing anything about being one. In other words, they’re reaping the positive status of the word without actively being an ally. 

What do I mean by this? There seems to be a misunderstanding when it comes to what being an ally actually entails. I can tell you that it isn’t like an article of clothing you can put on or take off at your convenience. Those who are actually marginalized can’t shed their identity at a moment’s notice, so neither should you.

So what actually is an ally? Well, for one, allies are people who are not part of the marginalized group for which they are advocating for. You don’t have to necessarily know what it feels like to be oppressed or experience the difficulties that marginalized groups go through. All being an ally means is that you are taking on and understanding their struggle with them.

If you’re new to the concept of allyship, being an advocate is a great start! This means, for example, not just claiming the title of ally because you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, but actually fighting for better LGBTQ+ representation in the media. 

Additionally, this also includes defending said marginalized groups when they’re not in the room, and especially when they are. What do I mean by this? On a more subtle scale, calling out bigoted comments such as “that’s so gay” or the use of the r-word publicly challenges the status quo and reinforces that these sorts of comments are not okay in any shape or form. 

On the more extreme end, if you see a marginalized person disparaged in public or even private spaces, it’s your responsibility as an ally to stand up for them. Yes, that includes your racist grandparents and it also includes your parents who “just don’t understand all that transgender nonsense”.

While I don’t want to get too much into the intricacies of intersectionality (as it deserves its own article), I do want to touch on privilege. Most of us have it in some way, shape or form. Nowadays, the very word sets people on edge, and some people may even get defensive. Don’t worry straight, white dudes, I’m not going to attack you. For the sake of this article, privilege is an aspect of society or reality that you don’t have to worry about, but something that another marginalized group does. 

For example, I’m speaking mainly from my experiences as a gay, able-bodied and cisgender man of colour. I face certain issues that are relevant to me and other people of my background, but I also lack knowledge and perspective on what it’s like to be a woman, a person under the trans umbrella or someone who has a physical disability. Being aware of your own privilege as an ally can potentially help you understand the struggles of the groups you’re advocating for. 

Also, I mean this with all due respect, but if you are an ally, it isn’t about you. Bragging about how you support the Black Lives Matter movement, or about how you “only volunteer at camps for kids with special needs” makes you come off in a not-so-positive light. Specifically, it makes you look like you’re using these groups for your own social gain. Rein in the saviour complex and instead have some respect for those around you who fight for social justice out of a need to survive, not because it looks good on a resume.

So, if I’ve successfully convinced you to change your ways, there’s just one more thing for me to address with you. It’s that making mistakes is completely okay. Everyone has to learn somehow! Acknowledge it, accept responsibility, learn from it and move on equipped with the knowledge you have now.


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