Saturday, February 9, 2013

And the Survey Says!... Allies & Allyship Reflections Part 3 of 3: Best Practices

For the ninth meeting of RAPP XXVIII, our facilitation team decided to play a game! We're in the process of exploring the concept of allies & allyship in social justice and decided to survey as many folks as we could on short notice about it to build a game of Family Feud.

Read the background on this in the first post of this series and learn about common mistakes in the second post.

What is the most effective thing an ally can do?
This question appeared on the survey with the following additional explanation:  "What behaviors/strategy/skill/knowledge makes an ally outstanding and/or effective?"  We asked folks to specify one or two things, even knowing the full answer is much more complex.

The intention behind this question was to get guidance from people on what to do, instead of just what not to do.  We encouraged people to respond in terms of however they defined ally.

And the Survey Says!
The eight most common responses, from most frequently cited to least, are:
Be consistent in your commitment.  As clearly explained in the challenges post, being an ally isn't super easy.  But allies are allies because they commit to the hard work and live the process every day, all day.  Show up, speak up, take risk, keep learning, keep listening.  Be there and be visible in the fun times and the crappy times.

Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.  Listen wholeheartedly.  Listen openly.  Listen to what others say.  Listen to your internal dialogue.  Listen without an agenda.  Listen for understanding.  Listen to learn.  Listen to understand the cultural around us.  Listen to the impact of it.  Listen to the people we don't listen to usually.  Listen.  Listen. Listen. Listen.

Act according to what you hear from the group.  Not only was listening brought up marginally more than acting, it was often brought up specifically as "listen before you act."  Listening to the experiences, wisdom, needs, and desires of the group you're working to ally with will help you suspend your assumptions that you know "what's best" for that group to do.

Take ownership of educating yourself.  Listening is part of learning.  Asking questions is, too.  But it can't be your only source of learning.  You can listen to the group's experiences, wisdom, needs, and desires by reading, watching films/shows/clips, talking with other allies, attending pre-existing classes and worskhops and events, joining the groups that exist around the issue, and other outlets.  Continual learning is critical and it's our own responsibility - it's not the responsibility of the group to teach us ('cause, if we listen, we see that they already have, over and over).

Strategize for the long term.  As the challenges post alludes to, being an ally involves a lifetime of committed work.  Running sprints is fast and has quick results in the short-term, but can leave us ill-prepared for the long-term.  Being strategic can involve knowing which battles are most effective, being proactive rather than reactive, and learning to assess what leverage and power we have to use most effectively.

Be authentic.  Being consistently honest with ourselves and others supports every other action this list describes and other effective strategies that aren't in this top eight.  The many ways this comes into play, to me, are well-described in the Diverse Community Foundations developed by Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington.  Authenticity is critical to so many foundations of justice: building trust, sustaining commitment, humility, understanding, accountability, navigating conflict and discomfort, practicing forgiveness, self-work, healing, appreciation, celebration, growth, change, and connection.

Expect and learn from our mistakes.  Many social justice education programs based our work on the definition of social justice from Maurianne Adams, Lee Ann Bell, and Pat Griffin:  Social justice is both a process and a goal.  One challenge in that is the goal - truly believing in our vision of a just society and that it is possible.  Another challenge is that is a process - we don't magically get there, we journey along a path filled with great learning, discovery, and lots of mistakes.  According to our survey, an effective ally has two key approaches to mistakes:
  • They're inevitable.  So, give ourselves permission to make them.
  • They're huge learning opportunities. So, learn from them.
Be able to explain why you're an ally.  Again, there are a lot of challenges to being an ally.  It's a lifelong, humbling and liberating role to which we have to commit and on which we have to continually work.  It's not as easy as putting on a t-shirt or wearing a button (though these can contribute to the process).  Visibility is important, so it helps to be "out" as an ally.  This means, though, that you're going to be asked "Why?"  Why are you an ally?  Have an answer for yourself, it will sustain, motivate, and guide you.

In case you missed it!
Parts one and two of this series addressed what survey participants cited as common challenges allies face and common mistakes allies make, respectively.

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