Sarah Cordivano
Published in

Sarah Cordivano

A guide for allies: recognizing our privilege and fighting against racist systems

This blog was co-authored by Laura Bennett.

stack of books, covers in different colors
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

The last week has demonstrated vividly how deeply racism and oppression are interwoven in our society. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among others, are tragic and sadly all too common examples of violence towards the Black community in the US. Even though it has been especially visible this week, the violence and oppression experienced by Black people and other non-black People of Color is a regular occurrence, not just in the US but around the world.

Discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated and many groups face different kinds of discrimination, including racism, however, for now, in this blog, at this hopefully pivotal moment in history, we’re talking specifically about anti-Black racism and how white people and other non-Black People of Color can step up to actively counter it. It’s important to acknowledge this and not to derail the conversation, which is so desperately needed. This is an important reminder that if we want to step up as allies, we should read and listen to the experiences of the Black community.

Rachel Cargle, public academic, writer, and lecturer, asks the world to, “offer critical language and a critical lens through which to approach your role in the fight for justice”: Public Address on Revolution: Rachel Cargle.

It’s important to understand how these everyday traumas have an impact on Black colleagues. Please read their experiences:

Maintaining Professionalism In The Age of Black Death Is….A Lot
3 Things You Should Not Say To Your Black Colleagues Right Now
Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not

How to be an ally

An ally is someone in a position of relative privilege who is willing to use their position to help others. A good ally leverages their privilege to advance the inclusion of others through their actions. Being an ally is based on intentional actions, and involves continuous awareness. Importantly, allyship does not include speaking on behalf of the communities you’re trying to support. You can find a good guide on how to be an effective ally here:

If You Are White And Anti-Racist, This Non-Optical Allyship Guide Is Required Reading (Mireille Cassandra Harper for Vogue)

Understanding our own privilege

Understanding how our own privilege impacts our lives is the first step in a learning journey to become an active participant in dismantling oppressive systems of racism. There are many resources out there to help us on this journey. One I can suggest is reading and thinking carefully about: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.

Acknowledging our own privilege isn’t the same as saying that our lives have necessarily been easy, it just means recognizing the many ways our different types of privilege have given us advantages in our life that others have lacked. It’s an intensely personal journey but critically important to being able to do the work of allyship.

It’s our responsibility to learn

What often happens in moments like this is that our white friends and family look to their Black neighbors and friends for support on education — particularly for recommendations on what books to read, or films to watch. This puts a huge burden on those who are already experiencing racism to also be a teacher and explain that racism. Allies have a responsibility to do the work ourselves.

Some resources that might help:


Movies & Documentaries

Further reading & learning

So what to do now?

In summary, here are some specific steps to help you get started:

  • Recognize your own privilege
  • Take the responsibility for your own learning journey without placing the burden only on our Black friends for help
  • Talk to your white friends and family members about their behavior and invite them to consider their own privileges
  • Take feedback on your own behavior without defensiveness, as an opportunity to grow and learn
  • Support social justice causes financially or with your time
  • Familiarize yourself with our company's anti-discrimination policy and other training materials or guidelines they have.
  • Be an active voice for change, but do not speak over others or make the message about yourself.

As a final message, consider that it’s not enough to just ‘not be racist’ and that in order to actually make a difference, we need to be actively anti-racist. You can find out more about the concept of anti-racism in ‘How to be an anti-racist’ by Ibram X. Kendi and in this helpful guide: What it means to be anti-racist (Anna North for Vox).




This publication explores practical diversity, equity and inclusion guidance for driving change in a global working environment. Header photo credit: @aznbokchoy on Unsplash.

Recommended from Medium

I Was Charged with Assault in the 1990s

Finding the balance for better with Julia Gillard — Part 2

I want you to smell the sun

The Hows and Whys of Supporting Survivors

Profile Story  Written by Jacob Broadwell

The Blot on Our Conscience — Crisis of Migrant Laborers

Fernish gives back this holiday season

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Sarah Cordivano

Sarah Cordivano

Community Building, Equity, Inclusion and Maps. Former Philadelphian, Current Berliner. Twitter @mapadelphia & LinkedIn.

More from Medium

Taking an Art Break with ODC/Dance

What Students Should Be Learning about Race and Other Identities: K-12 Standards for Justice

Being a Corporate Ally: When is Good Not Good Enough?