10 Tips for Being a Good Ally

"I Stand on the Right Side of History" -- SF PRide 2010 -- Photo: Reyes-Chow

“I Stand on the Right Side of History” — SF PRide 2011 — Photo: Reyes-Chow

This past weekend, I  had the privilege of spending a few days with the folks at the  2014 Christianity 21 Conference in Denver, CO. Along with some truly gifted thinkers and theologies, I was one of the 21 main speakers tasked with bringing a “big idea” to the event. The only requirement was that whatever idea I brought, it not be one that I had presented on before. Now, I have lots of ideas . . . mostly little ones that will never see the light of day, but I eventually settled on talking about the nature of being an Ally, more specifically, #AGoodAlly

This group tends to be White, liberal-ish, justice minded, educated and from a mix of Christian traditions.  I am friends with many of these folks and, while not always agreeing, appreciate the genuine nature with which faith, church and life are faced. Because this is a crowd that I feel comfortable being part of, I also wanted to push a bit on how I have seen them, us, myself behave when in the position of being an Ally.

Below is the the talk and you can see the slides on slideshareConfession – I originally wanted to title this #AllyOrAsshat, but, instead, I went with #AGoodAlly.

Grey Line for Reyes-Chow Blog

As I have shared before, I am a bit uncomfortable with the term Ally in the fight for justice in the world and the church when it comes to issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. As we have seen time and time again, even the best seasoned allies can get into trouble. We overstep our bounds, we overestimate our rolls, we flat out have meltdowns that eviscerate years of good will and we inadvertently add to and exacerbate the marginalization and exclusion that has drawn us to the struggle in the first place. What often begins as a welcomed gesture of solidarity between allies and the oppressed, seems too often to end up with us “allies” and those we are trying to support battling one another.

To be clear, I am not dismissing or discounting the role that Allies play in fight against injustice, marginalization and oppression  for I firmly believe that all movements towards justice must be enacted across many lines of privilege and experience. People need to speak out within their communities, stand up against norms that they have been part of and step out of their places of comfort if they are truly committed to supporting marginalized communities.

Allies are crucial.

Allyhood is also as diverse as the communities to which we belong. In one case I may be the ally to a community (male to female)  and in another I may need allies to stand with the community to which I belong (White to Asian). There is no ONE way to be a good ally.

That said, I think there may be some things that we can all keep on mind as we find ourselves of the Ally side of a struggle. So from my own experience and observations of the best and worst of Ally action, I would like to offer 10 postures, approaches and tips that I believe #AGoodAlly embodies and enacts.

#AGoodAlly uses the ally label sparingly; it is better to earn the title from others than to claim it for yourself. [Tweet it!]

When someone calls him/herself an “ally” I cringe just a bit. I don’t cringe because I doubt the intention or motivation behind claiming the label, but because, when used too often, it can begin to sound like a “if you have to tell us how awesome you are, then you are probably not all that awesome” kind of thing. I generally err on the side of NOT using it unless some from the group I am supporting uses it.

#AGoodAlly doesn’t make the struggle about them or fetishize oppression to feel part of the struggle. [Tweet it!]

Yes, the journey to supporting a group has been difficult. We have had to confront lifelong beliefs and, if it has not already begun friends, family and community have begun to question our state of mind at best and have ostracized us at worst. And while I do not want to diminish what allies going through, we must be careful not to trumpet our own suffering too loudly. You see, for many folks who need our support, LGBTQ, women, people of color, our suffering, ostracization and struggle most often pales in comparison to what they face for a lifetime.

#AGoodAlly knows when and where their voice needs to be heard — or not heard. [Tweet it!]

There will always be times when an ally must speak to his/her own family or community; but we must be careful that the ally voice does not become the default voice for the struggle when the realities of any struggle are best shared by those who experience the struggle in the first place. Allies must both speak for those who cannot speak for themselves while simultaneously working to create space where those voices can be heard in person.

#AGoodAlly knows that one cannot fully know and understand the struggles of the othered. [Tweet it!]

The “honorary [insert marginalized group here]” title is thrown around a good deal both by those who come from particular communities as well as those of us who want to be connected to them. Allies must be careful not to overstep the bounds of understanding. In our yearning to be compassionate we try to place ourselves in the other’s shoes, which is good; but not to the point where we claim, “We know what it like to be . . .” because allies by their very nature and possessing the ability to choose to be allied to a struggle for justice, can move in and out of the realm of struggle.

#AGoodAlly does not see struggle as a game to win, but as a lifelong commitment to solidarity and justice. [Tweet it!]

There will be times when it will feel like we are in a “no-win” situation, being challenged by the community we are trying to support as well as communities that we are trying to challenge. This is to be expected and it will feel unfair and overwhelming. But . . .  if we fall into the idea that the main purpose of being an “ally” is to somehow attain a personal victory then we are only doing it to somehow elevate our own sense of self, which, if we believe that part of being an ally is confronting our own privilege, then ending up at the top of the medal stand should be the the last reason that we are allies in the first place.

#AGoodAlly doesn’t take everything personally and understands the insidious nature of institutional injustice. [Tweet it!]

If some of you have followed the twitter hashtags like #blackprivilege #notyourasiansidekick or #everydaysexism you would not be human if you didn’t feel the urge to respond with, “But not all X are like that” or “But I am not like that” or otherwise try to discount the idea and reality of institutional realities. While we may not always like or agree with what is being said, sometimes sweeping generalizations need to be expressed in order to understand the sweeping nature of institutional exclusion.

#AGoodAlly takes some things personally and knows that being an ally does not purge a lifetime of privilege. [Tweet it!]

Being an ally does not mean that all of a sudden we are devoid of any or all of the things that put us in the position of being able to choose to be an ally in the first place. Our positions of dominance be it gender, racism, ability, sexuality, etc., whether we want them to or not, continually play a role in perpetuating institutional injustices. With this in mind, we must able to name our own personal contributions to injustice and embrace the lifelong challenge to mitigate the negative effects of that privilege.

#AGoodAlly welcomes other allies and understands the power of diverse strategies and partners. [Tweet it!]

One of the dangers, especially for allies who have some public recognition, is that we acts as if we have been crowned THE designated and head ally for struggle X be it LGBTQ inclusion the church, race relations, sexism, etc.  This gets played out in “you’re either with us or you’re against us” rhetoric around particular campaigns (usually out own) or condescension towards people who are new to the struggle, are unknown  or are not deemed to hold any strategic value. Allies must be able to work together which includes welcoming new allies, supporting a variety of strategies and holding one another accountable so that we do not make this about us.

#AGoodAlly avoids saviorism and constantly reflects upon their role and place in the larger struggle.  [Tweet it!]

This might be the most important of them all. Sometimes in our vigor and passion to fight injustice, we fall into the trap of saviorhood. The male that fights for women’s rights, the straight/CIS person who advocates for LGBTQ people, the White person confronting racism. I have no doubt that most begin with great intentions, but as we have seen over and over again, when unchecked and unreflective, even the most passionate and well-meaning person can being to suppress  and oppress the very voices that we set out to support. Again, we must not buy into the idea that it is through our privilege that we will save an entire people, but it is through the deconstruction of that privilege that a people can be liberated from injustice.

#AGoodAlly expects no medals or accolades for doing that which should be done all along. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. [Tweet it!]

We all know that an occasional “thank you for for what you do” feels good. That said, one of the biggest dangers that allies face is to feel as though we somehow deserve recognition for standing with and speaking out on behalf of marginalized communities. This comes out most when we are critiqued and we and our defenders respond, with some version of , “…but look what Ally X has done for the struggle” or “look what I have done for the struggle” as if we not only get a “pass” on being criticized, but should be given an award for even being in the struggle in the first place. When we begin to demand respect and recognition for living in a way that ought to be the norm, we again, lift our own lives over and above those with whom we claim solidarity. So, while there must always be room for grace and forgiveness when we do get a little full of ourselves, allies must find affirmation in ways that don’t require us to be at the center of it all.

Now of course these are just a few tips and there are no doubt countless helpful ideas that may be influenced by personal contexts and the particularities of issue. To effectively stand in genuine solidarity with communities of struggle, we allies must always be self-reflective about our roles while simultaneously being sensitive the needs of the communities that we are trying to support. So in the end, no matter the struggles that we may face in choosing to ally with those impacted by the injustices of the world, if we are committed to a world that is just, reconciling and whole, we will always strive to be #AGoodAlly.

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If you have more tips, please leave them here or use the #AGoodAlly hashtag on twitter. And again, if you would like to see, use and liberate the slides, feel free to grab them [10 Ways to be a Good Ally on Slideshare]. 

Originally posted on www.reyes-chow.com

Why this Presbyterian Signed An Open Letter from the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church

Others who have since blogged about the letter: Angry Asian Man, Kathy Khang, Rachel Held EvansElder,Jrethinkxian, DoraAsAm News, Evangelical Covenant Church, NPR Codeswitch and The Christian Post – Please let me know if you know of others and I’ll update this list. And if you are seeing this for the first time, be sure to check out, The Open Letter, How We Got Here and Where We Hope to Go by one of the lead organizers, Kathy Khang.

Church is a funny thing. An ever cyclical journey of  division, reunion, amazement, disappointment, joy, despair, hope and love — it’s the place that I call home. To be most precise, my ecclesiasticall mailing address is the Presbyterian Church (USA), my denomination of birth and choice; but my home is also like a city, filled with neighborhoods of wonder and joy. Much like I saunter the neighborhoods of San Francisco, taking in the specific sites, sounds and fragrances that make up the history and energy of that set of blocks, I do the same when it comes to my church life.

The emergent church neighborhood.

The Red Letter Christians neighborhood.

The progressive Presbyterian neighborhood.

The old school ecumenical gatherings neighborhood.

The Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church neighborhood.

The “once where young and now trying to figure out what’s next” church pastor neighborhood.

And . . . the Asian American Christian neighborhood.

Each of these church locations provides me with new insights into life and faith, relationships that stretch my understanding of living the gospel and circles of community where I see the best and worst of who we can be as people who claim to follow Christ in the world.

Over the past decades, I have been particularly touched by the ways in which I have connected with my Asian American colleagues in ministry. While we have disagreed over a great many things theological and social, we have been able to hold onto some common experiences and  lenses through which we view the gospel. My life and faith have been richer because of these relationships.

Click on image to view original posting on www.nextgenerasian.com

So . . . last week, spurred on by an episode at the Exponential Church Planting Conference where a video was used that depicted White pastors using Asian sounding accents, doing martial arts with oriental music sounding in the background, I was invited into a conversation about writing an open letter to the evangelical church about Asian American Christians and the patterns of marginalization that must be confronted and stopped. Now I have developed relationships over the years with folks, so I was not surprised to be invited, but, because I do not consider myself an “evangelical Christian” as it is generally understood, it felt a little as if I was eavesdropping into another neighborhood’s closed door meeting.

You can read the letter here [PDF] and add your name if you choose [here].

Still, I signed . . . with the addition of one paragraph.

As a side note: while the most recent public examples mentioned above have been connected with evangelical institutions, events, and individuals, we also know both subtle and blatant forms of racist actions are prevalent through the entirety of the body of Christ regardless of theological or ecclesiastical tradition, and our list of signatories below reflects this desire of Asian Americans both within and outside of the evangelical tradition to strive for racial harmony in the church.

Because . . . while the evangelical church has had a few more public anti-Asian episodes as of late, that particular part of the larger Christian body is by no means the sole purveyor of racist actions that are both personal and institutional when it comes to Asian American Christians and the larger Asian American community in the United States.

So I, along with an initial 80+ people signed the initial letter  and as of the writing of this post another 500+ have added their names and voices. As with many open letters, I am not sure where this effort will lead, but I do hope that it will send a message to many that Asian Americans, perceived as invisible and silent by so many for so long, are lifting up our collective voices to say, no more.

Again you are invited to read the letter and add your name to the list of signers [here].

Thanks to the letter organizing crew – Ken Fong, Greg Jao, Kathy Khang, Ken Kong, Christine Lee, Helen Lee, David Park, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Sam Tsang, Justin Tse, Tim Tseng, and Daniel So. I am grateful for your voices.


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