Becoming an Ally

Tools for achieving equity in people and institutions

Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression. For example, a white woman can learn from her experience of sexism and apply it in becoming an ally to people of colour, or a person who grew up in poverty can learn from that experience how to respect others’ feelings of helplessness because of a disability.

I learned about patterns of oppression through my experience as a woman and a lesbian, then encountered my privileged position in the world as a white person. This experience led me to recognition my other privileges, from being educated, English-speaking, healthy, a Canadian citizen, etc. I found a wealth of books and other resources to help me understand my position as a person experiencing oppression, but very few to help with understanding privilege. Those I did find were oriented toward a specific form of oppression—men writing about sexism, white people writing about racism and heterosexual people writing about heterosexism. There did not seem to be a resource about living on both sides of oppression/privilege, and how to learn from both sides about ending all forms of oppression. My search led to years of keeping a journal, reading, discussion and conducting workshops on these issues. Eventually, two books emerged from this process: Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People (first edition 1994, second edition 2002, third edition forthcoming in the spring of 2015) and Beyond Token Change: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in Institutions (2005). Both books are published by Fernwood Publishing, Black Point, Nova Scotia, Canada.

This website contains a brief introduction and sample chapter from each book. I have also written a section for adult educators on educating allies with an annotated collection of further resources. If you are interested in the struggle for equity, in people and institutions, I am delighted that you have found this website. I hope it is useful to you in your work.

Anne Bishop