How to be a better ally

Three activist leaders on supporting the cause.


How to be a better ally

Three activist leaders on supporting the cause.


Movements like Black Lives Matter, Idle No More and Me Too are still fighting the toxic effects of historic oppression. Meanwhile, some of us benefit from those same systems. If that includes you, you might want to leverage your privilege and become an ally. But you might not know where to start. And you don’t want to overstep your bounds when you offer support.

Every movement has different needs, so do your own research when you get involved. As a first step, we got a crash course on positive allyship from three activists on the frontlines today.

Sara Bingham, director of Women’s March Canada

“Interns spend a lot of time shadowing and listening and asking questions. I think that's a great way to look at allyship,” says Bingham.

When we join social movements, our first impulse is often to raise our voice, but it’s best to spend some time on the job first. The biggest pitfall is trying to take charge.

“That's not an ally,” she adds, “That's a boss.”

Allies can open up their spaces for Women’s March meetings or use their connections to help the movement grow its reach rather than speaking for them. If you do overstep, just own your mistake, apologize and do better next time.

Pullquote pullquote pullquote pullquote pullquote pullquote

Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association

Maloney says her most successful protests bring together non-Indigenous people as joint stakeholders. Remember that so-called “Indigenous issues” like environmental stewardship and missing and murdered women are human rights issues that affect all communities.

“You find your allies are actually saying, ‘I live on this river, this affects me too.’”

Allies are especially helpful when it comes to media attention. Unfortunately, she finds protests are often dismissed as “Native issues” unless non-Indigenous allies come tell their stories and help their peers see the larger issue.

“Recognize the role you play as an ally and what brings you here. When it comes together, it's beautiful.”

Dr. David Campt, creator of the White Ally Toolkit

Campt says white allies should reach out to the “race skeptics” in their circles—he cites the 55 per cent of white Americans who don’t believe that racism still exists—rather than getting outraged and attacking. (We checked out stats at home, and 52 per cent of Canadians don’t believe racism is a serious problem). Still, the point is: educate, don’t berate.

“You aren't moving the needle . You aren't leveraging your privileged status. You're just making yourself feel better.”

Campt developed a toolkit based on conflict resolution, neurobiology and persuasion science to help white allies convince race skeptics to consider new perspectives. Remember the “RACE” method: reflect on how to stay calm and focused on your goal; ask a question about experiences that led them to their beliefs; connect with their experience through a story; expand with another story that confirms your belief that racism is still an important issue.

“White allies are hearing racially problematic comments that can be an on-ramp to a different kind of conversation,” says Campt. “These are teachable moments.”

There’s always more for allies to learn. Dig deeper and do your own research on how you can best contribute.

Craig Kielburger
Craig Kielburger
Craig Kielburger

Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.