What would allies really do?

How do allies really support marginalised or intersectional communities?

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Reflection on International Women’s Day 2019 by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

 

Just coming down off that cloud which is International Women’s Day (IWD). Its one of my favourite days of the year (well it’s a whole week really), because it gets me in touch with the women’s community, with my business women’s networks, and with the mainstream in a way that my usual work doesn’t.

 

The other thing about IWD that I love is that it is about women. That might sound a bit strange, but in the disability community our international day is often spent celebrating the contributions of allies, rather than focussing specifically on disabled people and our achievements. So, just talking women for IWD is a breath of fresh air that I don’t take for granted.

 

I’ve been preoccupied since this year’s IWD functions in considering what is an ally? How do real allies work to support marginalised / intersectional communities?

 

At one function this year I asked a panellist a question. I know this person, and we have enormous respect for each other, so it was possible to push the boundaries a bit. The talk had turned to intersectionality. This is one of my favourite areas of discussion and something I have a reputation for shifting ground on. This was known to the panellist who also loves talking intersectional feminism. We were both in clover to be able to have a conversation about intersectionality, even if half the room had no idea what we were talking about. Who cares?

 

Our panellist had shared the story of talking about intersectionality with a senior government figure. I noticed that they were both privileged white people talking intersectionality and asked if it had occurred to them during that conversation that they should bring more diversity into the room? Apparently not.

 

So, even though both people are allies and consciously working to address marginalisation and exclusion they didn’t reframe their conversation, or who they were talking with, to include people from the communities they were taking about.

 

I don’t know if the conversation happened on the sidelines of something and was very rushed, or whether it was a scheduled event in both their diaries, and they could then have controlled who was in the room. My consternation arose when it became clear that they hadn’t considered bringing anyone from a minority group into their conversation.

 

This conversation was between diversity allies. This panellist and the senior government figure are both passionate diversity advocates who understand that diversity is intersectional. Both also champion the rights of disabled women to be part of the solutions. Yet both aren’t practicing what they preach. I came away from the function not even sure that they noticed the absence of minority women as participants in their conversation.

 

How do we shift this?

 

How do we get intersectional people into that room to have that conversation about intersectionality, so that we aren’t leaving it up to those without lived experience?

 

I’ve been carrying the Diversish video around in my head the last month and it seems suddenly relevant. Everyone says intersectionality, disability inclusion, diversity is important, yet the privileged white people in positions of power and influence are not including diverse people in their conversations about how to change who has access to power and influence.

 

Is it possible to be an ally when that only equates to recognising your own privilege?

Shouldn’t those who recognise their privilege also step aside to ensure minority voices are the ones being heard?

Wouldn’t true allies step back and out of the way?

I’m looking forward to next International Women’s Day. Lets make it an intersectional one.

 

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Author: hchristinar

The professional hub for disability leaders. Time to change the way leadership is understood.

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