So you want to be an ally?

Everyone has been in this position at some point in their lives.  You know you want to do something, but yet not sure how to go about it.

We at DILON have been getting quite a few people and organisations contacting us asking this question (or questions in a similar vein) recently.  So I decided to address this in a very structured librarian way: with a list.  Please be aware that I am not an expert, this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it the *best* list available, but it should be a helpful starting point for you to do more research on being an effective ally.

I have referred to mostly online non-academic resources to promote the ease that one can research this topic.  As with most things, I am deeply indebted to all those who have broached this topic before me, and I have included them in the bibliography at the end.

I have used the term ‘People of Colour’ or ‘POC’ in this post as per this qualification by Loretta Ross about the Origin of the phrase “Women of Color”.


  1. Listen

Listening is one of the most important things you can do.  It validates the importance of the other person’s experiences.  Become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Take an active listening approach by asking questions to clarify things you don’t understand and be open to the response.  The active in ‘active listening’ does not mean launching into ‘that time it happened to you’.  “Being a good ally often means not being included in the conversation, because the conversation isn’t about you.” This conversation is about the other person.  However, remember to be respectful of what a person is not comfortable discussing.


  1. Don’t ask – do

Stop asking what you can do – start researching what you can do.  By asking people of colour how to be a better ally then you are implying that someone else should do all the emotional labour for you.  This work isn’t our responsibility; it’s yours.  Do not go into a discussion about privilege passively expecting someone else to make all of the recommendations for you.  This process is an active one, not a passive one and this approach demonstrates your commitment to the process.  Go into it with some ideas, use it as an opportunity to collaborate, research and learn something.  Take this as an opportunity to deconstruct your own unconscious biases – we all have them.


  1. Amplify

Mention the excellent work done by voices who do not have your privilege and repeat it.  This term originated as an echoing strategy within the workplace where if ideas from a marginalised group weren’t acknowledged, another person would repeat it and give their colleague credit for suggesting it.  This term has expanded to include both online (i.e. retweets and Facebook sharing) and real-world situations.  Amplifying the opinions and ideas of other people is a way to participate without taking up space.


  1. Speak Up

It is exhausting being the only person who says something.  The burden of representation means that there is an expectation that the only person of colour in the room will take up the mantle to re-dress all racist wrongs.  This situation is where you can step in.  If you spot discrimination at work or hear derogatory comments, say something, or talk to HR.  If you work in a large organisation, there will be processes in place to deal with situations like this.  This strategy is about creating a safe environment for everyone.


  1. It’s a verb, not a noun

Being an ally is an active not passive role.  The number of POC friends you have doesn’t make you an ally, nor does it make you more knowledgeable on the topic (better known as ‘whitesplaining’).  See #1 on this list.  You also do not get credit for past acts of solidarity (also known as ‘virtue signalling’) without regard for current behaviour.  What makes an ally is the active role you take, now, in the present, and in the future.  Racism is so deeply embedded in our culture that although there have been significant achievements, discrimination still exists in our society.  This means there is no end date to being an ally.  Here are some suggestions of things you can do: Look at your own internal biases (again, we all have them).  Look externally at ways to change oppressive systems.  Donate.  Volunteer.  Show support for groups that address these issues.  Amplify.


  1. Mistakes

You will make mistakes.  Let me repeat that.  You will make mistakes.  And you will continue to make mistakes.  No one gets it right the first time.  Your mistakes do not define you, but how you handle them does.  Be graceful, courteous and apologise (and mean it).  Accept feedback that your actions are doing more harm than good.  Do not get defensive and try to explain that ‘You are a nice person’ or ‘I am an ally, so it’s ok’.  You may be a nice person or an ally, but your privilege has blinded you to who is actually the victim.


Here’s a brilliant guide on how to handle mistakes of privilege:


“In reality, most of us naturally know the right way to react when we step on someone’s toes, and we can use that to help us learn how to react when we commit microaggressions.


Center the impacted: “Are you okay?”

Listen to their response and learn.

Apologize for the impact, even though you didn’t intend it: “I’m sorry!”

Stop the instance: move your foot

Stop the pattern: be careful where you step in the future. (When it comes to oppression, we want to actually change the “footwear” to get rid of privilege and oppression (sneakers for all!), but metaphors can only stretch so far!)”


  1. Represent

This section is for organisations.  Representation matters.  Why?  It shows the organisation’s commitment to a diverse workforce and demonstrates that diversity isn’t just a tick box exercise.  It also reflects an understanding of the benefits of a diverse workplace.  Please don’t keep asking the one POC in the organisation to be in the brochure.  Hire more people from different backgrounds.  The responses that ‘they don’t apply’ or ‘we can’t find any’ are excuses.  Look at your hiring practices, are there ‘bias interrupters’ during the hiring process to combat unconscious bias?  Does your organisation use blind hiring?  Are you advertising in the right place?  This type of change won’t be natural and takes effort, but is necessary to create opportunities for everyone, not just the privileged few.




Natalia Gordon

Information Services Librarian, Leeds Beckett University



Adesina, Z. and Marocico, O. (2017). Is it easier to get a job if you’re Adam or Mohamed? [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 22 May 2018]

Black, A.N. @ashleyn1cole (2018). Next time someone tells you they want to have a more diverse writers room but they can’t find any women and POC, tell them Beyonce found TEN black women who play violin. [Twitter]. 15 April [Online]. Available at:  [22 May 2018]

Chignell, B. (2018). Five reasons why diversity and inclusion at work matters. [online] CIPHR. Available at: [Accessed 11 Jun. 2018].

Eilperin, J. (2016). How a White House women’s office strategy went viral. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 21 May 2018]

Feldmann, J. (2018). The Benefits and Shortcomings of Blind Hiring in the Recruitment Process. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2018]

Garcia-Vargas, A. (2014). Managing Privilege. [online] Avaliable at: [Accessed 21 May 2018]

Lamont, A. (n.d.). Guide to Allyship. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 21 May 2018].

McKenzie, M. (2013). No More “Allies”. [online] Charter for Compassion. Available at:  [Accessed 20 May 2018]

Nigatu, H. and Clayton, T. (2015). How To Be A Better Ally: An Open Letter To White Folks. [online] Buzzfeed News. Available at: [Accessed 20 May 2018)

Ross, L. (2011). The Origin of the phrase “Women of Color”. [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 20 May 2018]

Teaching Tolerance. (2018). Test Yourself for Hidden Bias. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 11 Jun. 2018].

Utt, J. (2013). So You Call Yourself and Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know. [online] Everyday Feminism. Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018]

Williams, J.C. (2014). Hacking Tech’s Diversity Problem. [online]. Harvard Business Review. Available at: [Accessed 22 May 2018]