How to be a better ally text

Continuing the search on how to be a more effective ally when it comes to my black, coloured and indian friends in South Africa. While it was not specifically an Ally Series post, this piece i did yesterday titled, ‘Before I Comment’ is one we would all do well to pay attention to. Thinking before we rush in to an argument with an opinion or to try and take control is a definite way we can be an Ally.

This one feels like a bit of a tricky one – a kind of paradox that one may constantly have to wrestle with the tension of – but i think it’s important. As a white person it is not for me to lead the march to reconciliation and to dictate the terms.  i believe that really has to come from those who were formerly marginalised and oppressed as for too long we were involved in silencing their voices.

i also think it is very important for us to be very alert to the fact that we are NOT Giving Anyone a Voice – we are helping creating spaces for voices, we are passing on the mic, we are taking time to listen to voices… but we can never give someone a voice. They have a voice already and it was ignored, rejected, shushed, ridiculed and shamed.

But at the same time, and this is where it gets tricky, i do think this is one space where those of us who acknowledge the white privilege we have, are able to use our voice, influence, privilege, resources to create better spaces and opportunities for others’ voices to be heard.

As someone who has a blog that some people read, this has been one space where i have sought to do that – probably the majority of the posts i have shared about South Africa and Privilege have been written by other people.

So use your loud white person voice to gather a crowd, and then step back and invite someone else to the podium. The reason this feels like a hard one to manage is that it feels precariously close to creating the potential for ‘white man God complex’ to be acted out. “Look! I have swooped in and saved the day by creating this podium for you. Look how great i am. Now say a few words to pacify the crowds.”

It is completely not that and so needs to be pulled off with the greatest humility and respect for those whose voices we desperately long to hear. And in relationship with them. Taking their lead. i love how friends of mine like Nkosi, Avuyile, Tsholo and Sindile have graciously accepted the invitations and run with them on a number of occasions. And i hope to see many more future collaborations.

To be an effective Ally i think we need to try and figure out what opportunities our privilege affords us in terms of being able to create spaces for the voices that need to be leading and informing and teaching and showing us all the way. It doesn’t come naturally to me and probably not to you either. And i imagine i will need someone to cough awkwardly from time to time or give me a subtle gesture [or physically walk onto the stage and carry me off, although hopefully it won’t need to go there] to remind me that i am on the wrong part of the stage.

Don’t get me wrong – Reconciliation has to come from all of us. We need to work and walk together on this. But with a strong colonialistic history, white men have tended to assume centre stage and to make this thing all about us and to assume positions of power and authority and this is what we need to give up. We are needing to be listeners and learners and those who follow for a change. Giving our support to those who will lead us forwards on this journey.

So to be an effective Ally, i think we need to learn how to step back.

[For the next post calling for White Allies to Out Themselves, click here]

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