The Anatomy of an Ally

When caring isn’t enough

Being an ally means recognizing oppression broadly and standing in solidarity with anyone who experiences it. Even if you belong to a targeted group, you can still become an ally.

The reality also is that there is no blueprint. And being effective requires a significant amount of self-reflection. An ally is someone who has a strong sense of their own identity, as well as the ways in which their own identities have advantages or disadvantages.

Allyship Requires Commitment

Becoming an ally is an ongoing process that requires courage and commitment. Whether you’re advocating for a marginalized community, allies must accept the responsibility to focus unequivocally on how power and privilege function in society and beyond.

One important factor: Acknowledging personal privilege isn’t enough. When trying to become a better ally, self-education should come first. There is always more to learn about different identity groups and about how others experience oppression. Without educating yourself, expressions of allyship can be perceived as tone-deaf. It’s also up to allies to break institutional silences about poverty, race, sexual orientation or religion and begin professional discussions about language, pedagogy, diversity and bias. It can be uncomfortable, but discomfort is a necessary part of the work.

Discomfort isn’t the only barrier to being a long-term ally. The goal of ending oppression requires incremental change that can feel exhausting and overwhelming. You need to be patient with your community, colleagues and yourself. We may go into allyship wanting to change the world, but we need to remember that we can’t do it alone.

The most successful allies proactively listen, validate and — when possible—help others take action.


Am I Doing It Right?

Even experienced allies aren’t always sure what to say or do. These reminders can keep you on the path to being a source of support and empowerment.


  • Do listen and ask how you can help.
  • Don’t expect another person to educate you about their identity.
  • Do accept criticism thoughtfully.
  • Don’t broadcast your qualifications for being an ally.
  • Do speak up when you hear biased language.
  • Don’t apologize for the actions of your identity group.
  • Do seek support from experienced allies within your identity group.
  • Don’t expect credit for being an ally.
  • Do acknowledge intersectionality.
  • Don’t selectively support one group over another.
Adapted with permission of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
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