How to be an ally

Dana Udall, Ph.D — Chief Clinical Officer, Ginger — June 5, 2020

When it comes to the crucial work of supporting Black and other communities of color, it can be difficult knowing where to start. Here are some ways to take action, promote change, increase your awareness skills, and learn a lot in the process.

Too often, minority group members are asked to speak for their group or educate those in the White majority. To be an ally, take responsibility for learning about the history of racism and the very real effects of racism, which can negatively impact physical and emotional health, and even shorten the lifespan.

Research suggests that our efforts to eliminate implicit bias have been largely unsuccessful. Instead, what can be helpful is to understand the stories of Black individuals and learn about data on systemic racism in areas like police brutality, residential segregation, and access to education.

Microaggressions are the “everyday slights, indignities, put‑downs and insults that members of marginalized groups experience in their day-to-day interactions with individuals who are often unaware that they have engaged in an offensive or demeaning way.” Acknowledge microaggressions when you see them; be open to feedback when you engage in them; work to adopt new ways of thinking and acting as a result.

Talk to your children about racism, but also take action. Too often, parents think that they’re being anti-racist by teaching their children to be “color-blind.” But research suggests that this can do more harm than good. Instead, start talking with your kids early about race (here is a list of books) and take steps to enable them to interact with a range of people. If you live in a predominantly White area, be intentional about exposing your kids to different cultures through literature, films, music, and art.

Gaining cultural competence, or the ability to successfully partner with those from other groups, is a process that takes time, intention, and input from others. To get started, spend time thinking about your own worldview, and how your various identities, including being White, have shaped the way you live. Let others know that you're working on becoming actively anti-racist, and be willing to hear feedback about your own behavior. Being an ally takes commitment, but can have a huge impact on the lives of others and mitigate feelings of hopelessness and helplessness you may be experiencing.