If Donald Sterling had the opportunity to become a LDIR, what would be different? LDIR participants learn to understand the way their positions in society shape how they interact with others and, in turn, how others interact with them. As a LDIR, Sterling would have had a chance to think about, discuss and understand the way his life was shaped by being able to afford to own a NBA team, being able to walk through the world without being negatively impacted by his race, and being able to benefit from his gender. This type of deeply personal reflection could have opened Sterling up to understanding the ways our different experiences–and intersecting identities–impact us. Sterling could have reflected on and changed his interactions with friends, colleagues, and the Clippers team with a critical awareness of how he has had a different level of access to resources.
Besides growing awareness, LDIR would have helped Sterling to build the skills needed to create equitable professional and social environments for those around him. LDIR would have helped Sterling understand that action is necessary for change. Sterling could have been a powerful ally, advocating for change that was informed by Clippers team members, women colleagues, LGBTQ peers and more. If Sterling were a LDIR, we would have a different NBA.
If every team owner in the NBA were to become a LDIR, the league would be stronger. When you understand that leadership requires self-awareness, you are positioned to create major shifts. Employees, players, and fans could have stronger investments in teams and the league, knowing that the leaders in the NBA understand the impacts of their power and are invested in building strong teams and relationships across difference. There is so much to be gained from having LDIRs at all levels, not the least of which is healthier work places and personal relationships. If all team owners were LDIRs, maybe no team would ever feel compelled to warm up hiding their logo.
LDIR defines an ally as someone who understands the many layers of oppression, can identify positions of privilege that they hold, and actively works to rectify inequity. This includes people who mutually understand and recognize each others’ oppressions and work towards building coalitions in order to address inequity. Download the PDF version of “What is an ally?”
The Anti-Racist Alliance describes a white ally as someone who names racism, recognizes unearned privileges and makes them visible, dismantles internalized dominance and the belief in the racial superiority of self as a white person, interrupts collusion with other whites who seek to maintain their power and privilege, takes personal responsibility, acts intentionally and overtly behaves as a change agent against white domination.
The Gender Education Center defines allies to the transgender, lesbian, bisexual, and gay communities as “people who support us who may or may not be a part of our community. These are people who believe in the human rights of all people. They demonstrate that belief through their presence, actions, acceptance and celebration of diversity among people.”
People who experience some type of oppression also have ways to acknowledge privilege. Anyone can become an ally. Being an ally is not just for straight, rich, gender-normative, white, Christian, able-bodied men. It is for anyone who has any kind of privilege and understands that individuals and/or collectives can challenge systems of oppression that are used against other human beings.
Only allies can challenge oppression from a place of privilege; only people who are targets of oppression can do the work of resisting and challenging it from that place. Although they are not the same, both are vital.
Becoming an ally can be difficult. It’s more than just calling yourself an ally; it is an on-going process and life commitment. The following four practices help describe this process. Choosing to be an ally is a responsibility to honestly engage in these four ways; each one is closely connected to the others.
Awareness of self as well as issues of oppression, and how these two are interconnected.
Noting your assumptions and asking how these assumptions formed.
Examining the personal characteristics and perspectives that make allyship easy or difficult.
Finding ways to self-reflect without requiring oppressed people to do the extra work of providing education.
Many types of oppression have been documented or written about extensively by the people who experienced them. Accessing these resources will provide the foundation of your allyship.
Familiarize yourself with the issues and histories of oppressed groups according to those groups and how these issues and histories relate to your own.
3. Creating an Open and Supportive Environment
Acknowledge, appreciate, and celebrate differences among individuals and within groups.
Encourage and promote an atmosphere of respect and trust – speak openly about the challenges and opportunities that differences between people can bring.
Be open to criticism of yourself, organization, workplace, family, etc. And actively create safe space for them.
Listen carefully and thoughtfully.
Taking it upon yourself to figure out what you can do to move things forward, instead of expecting marginalized people to take the lead.
Practice and be gentle on yourself. Make mistakes and learn. Then practice all over again.
Do not speak or do things for someone or instead of them. You are not a placeholder, speak from yourself.
Once you start becoming an ally, help support others to become allies
Share knowledge – work with other privileged people to help them understand your framework.
Build partnerships with other privileged people and develop plans that promote cultural and structural change.
Watching Oprah Winfrey’s show from 1992 that had a segment of Jane Elliot talking about race in America made me look at race at a whole new perspective again.
In this video, Jane Elliott – a white women – claims that she herself is racist because she was born and raised in a racial society. Explaining her experiment as a teacher to her students, she explains how in her blue-eye/brown-eye experiment to teach diversity training, brown eyed people are separated from blue eyed people and are treated as people of color. But treated in this perspective – unable to speak to the blue-eyed folks, unable to question any authority, and not allowed to play on the playground – her students become angry, feeling shocked and oppressed by the experiment.
Jane Elliott further goes on to reveal to the audience other forms of how racism is institutionalized in our society. It is institutionalized in our education. “Brown eyed” people contribute to our society, but only in the education system are we taught about white contributions. Racism exists in the form of cartography – where in social science maps, the United States is in the center and Greenland is shown as a large island even bigger than South America. Band-Aid colors are based on the color of white flesh – not people of color. Peach color pantyhoes are sold as “nude” to represent the nude color of whites, not people of color. When in elementary school we try to color our skin in our drawings – we use a peach color to color our faces – not yellow, brown, or black.
By the fact that this is from 1992 shows that our struggles are still continuing. It is now 2013 and today we still face these problems of racism – even when people claim that our society is post racial. Even though we are in the post civil rights movement and no explicit segregation exists today, people of color still face different forms of oppression. Institutionally, our education and history textbooks still fail to talk about the contributions of people of color and mention their history in the United States. Systematically, our justice system fails to address the fact that people of color are the most criminalized – and police brutality is sometimes targeted at people of color. Interpersonally, people still make racist comments towards each other. But not just about race; micro aggressions even exist in gender and sexuality. With the age of technology and internet, oppression takes on a new outlet through cyberspace – allowing not only discriminatory opinions to be shared online but providing a question as to who has access to this medium. These forms of oppression show the immensity that institutionalized and interpersonal racism still exists in our society and how we as people of color, or allies of color, need self-advocacy to fight for justice.
Today, we need to become social change leaders and proactive allies. Becoming a social change leader means being committed to social justice and equality and believing in the empowerment of underprivileged communities. It means being critically conscious of the power dynamics of our society and the different levels of oppression – but also using this understanding to create dialogue among others. It means bridging the gap between different race, gender, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation to create interpersonal and intergroup relationships to fight for common social justice. Being a proactive ally means also understanding this power dynamic and using whatever privilege possessed to help fight for that common social justice. Today, we need these types of leaders who understand the continued oppression and who understand the need to create intergroup alliances to fight for change. Leadership Development for Interethnic Relations, created after the 1992 Los Angeles riots that rather pit different racial groups against each other, actually facilitates these types of workshops in its trainings. LDIR develops these leaders that we need in society today.
Like what Jane Elliott said – “we don’t need love. We need justice.” it’s not just love that we need for each other – we need a love for justice.
On Saturday, January 26, LDIR will be presenting an interactive workshop, “Activist Essentials: Becoming a Proactive Ally” at 11am and 2pm as part of the annual Asian Pacific Awareness Conference at UC Irvine.
What does it take to be a truly collaborative leader? Whether or not we’re aware of it, we often come to collaboration and movement building with our own biases, stereotypes, and oppressive ways of thinking. This interactive workshop challenges participants to locate themselves and interrupt the urge to be passive about privilege and oppression, so that we can begin to figure out how to actively and meaningfully organize in solidarity with one another.