How to be an ally 101

Sydney Smith, Bullis '18

Smith provides some tips to being a helpful Ally. (Published: 2018)

An ally is an individual who works with others for a common purpose. An ally may not be a part of the group they are supporting, but they want to work towards a common goal. This sounds simple, but in practice, it’s actually quite difficult. Many of us ask ourselves, “Is it ok for me to speak on issues that don’t affect me?” or “Is it ok to ask questions about someone else’s experience?” or “How do I put my feelings into action?” I believe the most important part of being an ally is action. Passively agreeing that there needs to be change is easy, but it doesn’t help anyone. To me, being able to put these thoughts and feelings into action is what makes a good ally. As a woman of color, I’ve created a list of basic steps one can take to be an ally to minority groups in their community...

Education, Education, and Education

Before you start participating in protests, leading campaigns, and holding conversations about a certain issue, I think it’s important for us to know what’s happening in these communities. One way to learn about the issues affecting minority communities is through research. It can be tricky to find credible sources, but one way to work around false information is to use government sites and research from different organizations and universities around the world. Another way to learn about the cause you want to stand up against is by talking to people about their experiences with this issue. I think that by hearing a personal experience, you have a good understanding of the issue you’re looking at, how it can affect someone, and, maybe, how you can support that person.

Acknowledge Your Privilege

For those of who you may not be familiar, “privilege” is the idea that certain rights or advantages are available to some, while others are not granted these same rights and advantages. An example of white privilege, the privilege that some white people have over others, is being able to use hotel-provided hair care products and trust that they will work for the texture of their hair. I think it is important that all allies are aware of how their privilege shapes the way they interact in the world and how they are treated differently than others who don’t have that same privilege. A personal example is, as a straight, cis-gender1 woman, I have always seen people of my gender2 and sexual orientation3 represented in the media. When acknowledging this privilege, I have to take into account that I have never doubted if someone like me could be the lead actress on a T.V. show because this specific identity is represented in the media, while transgender4 or non-binary5 people are largely underrepresented.

Listen to Understand, Not to Respond

I believe that before we start speaking up against injustices, we must be able to listen to those who are affected by them. While most of us may think that we are good listeners, I challenge you to rethink this idea. Listening with the intention of responding and listening with the intention of understanding are two different types of listening. When we listen to respond, we tend to not hear what the other person is saying because we are thinking about what we’re going to say. You can see someone listening to respond when they raise their hand before the speaker has finished their point. In contrast, listening to understand is when we listen to the other person speaking and try to empathize with what they are sharing and recognize their point of view, whether we agree with it or not.


1. Cis-gender: Gender identity aligns with the sex one was assigned at birth.

2.Gender: A term that refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men.

3. Sexual Orientation: The organization of a person’s sexual desire and emotional attachment with a reference to the sex and gender of their desired partner, whether the person’s primary attraction is to the opposite sex (heterosexuality), the same sex (homosexuality), or both sexes (bisexuality).

4. Transgender: A person whose gender identity differs from the cultural expectations of the sex they were assigned at birth.

5. Non-binary: A term for people who don’t identify as strictly male/female or woman/man.