Reading and Discussion Questions This activity is an opportunity to… Reading and Discussion QuestionsThis activity is an opportunity to engage in abstract conceptualization. How does this relate to what I know already? What I can I learn from this? What else do I need to find out about?”HOW TO”BECOMING AN ALLYBy Anne BishopHaving written that title, I must now admit that I cannot tell anyone exactly how to become an ally. I can, however, use my growing analysis of the process and my experience to offer some guidelines. Most people in our society do not yet see the connections between different forms of oppression or even have a general sense of how oppression works. Therefore, we still find ourselves dealing in most instances with one form of oppression at a time, and in a given setting, we are either in the role of oppressed or ally. I hope these observations will be as useful to you as they have been to me when I find myself in the ally role.1. It is important to be a worker in your own liberation struggle, whatever it is. Learn, reflect on, and understand the patterns and effects of oppression, take action with others, take risks, walk toward your fear to find your power.2. Try to help members of your own group understand oppression and make the links among different forms of oppression.3. I cannot overstress the need to listen. Listen and reflect.4. Remember that everyone in the oppressor group is part of the oppression. It is ridiculous to claim that you are not sexist if you are a man, or not racist if you are white, and so on. No matter how much work you have done on that area of yourself, there is more to be done. All members of this society grow up surrounded by oppressive attitudes; we are marinated in it. It runs in our veins; it is as invisible to us as the air we breathe. I do not believe that anyone raised in Western Society can ever claim to have finished ridding themselves completely of their oppressive attitudes. It is an ongoing task, like keeping the dishes clean. In fact, the minute I hear someone claim to be free of the attitudes and actions of a certain oppression (as in “I’m not a racist”), I know they have barely begun the process. Humility is the mark of someone who has gone a ways down the read and has caught a glimpse of just how long the road is.There is a parallel here with the principles of the twelve-step addiction recovery process. Just as the twelve-step programs teach that the process of healing from addiction is never finished, so it is with the process of unlearning oppression. A white person never becomes non-racist but is always a “recovering racist,” more often referred to as “anti-racist”.There is another reason members of an oppressor group are always oppressors, no matter how much individual learning we have done: until we change the politics and economics of oppression, we are still “living off the avails.” We would not be here, doing what we are doing, with the skills and access we have, if we did not have the colour, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, age, class, or physical abilities we have. Resources and power continue to come to us because we are members of the dominant group in relation to the particular form of oppression where we seek to be allies. So, until we succeed in making a more humane world, yes, we are racist (or ageist, or classist, or heterosexist, and so forth). Understanding this is part of the learning to think structurally rather than individually. It is part of avoiding overpersonalization of the issues.5. Having accepted that every member of an oppressor group is an oppressor, try not to feel like this makes you a “bad” person. Self-esteem does not have to mean distancing yourself from the oppressor role; it can come instead from taking a proud part in the struggle to end oppression. This involves learning to separate guilt from responsibility. Guilt means taking on the weight of history as an individual; responsibility means accepting your share of the challenge of changing the situation. Members of oppressor groups spend a great deal of energy in denying responsibility for oppression. What would happen if all that energy could be put to work figuring out how to end it?6. Remember that in the oppressor role, you cannot see the oppression as clearly as the oppressed group can. When people point out your oppressive attitudes or language to you, your first response should be to believe it. Ask questions and learn more about the oppression going on in that particular situation. Try not to leap to your own defence in one of the many ways oppressors use to deny responsibility for oppression. Self-defence is an overpersonalized response.It is true that you will likely meet members of the oppressed group who will want to claim that every little thing is oppressive and use it as a focus for their anger. You will also perhaps find members of the oppressed group who will try to use your efforts to unlearn oppression to manipulate you. It is all part of the processtheir process. The point is not to defend yourself; it will not work anyway. If you can deal with your own defensive feelings, you can turn the situation into a discussion that you, and perhaps everyone else, can use to learn more about the oppression, and you will be less vulnerable to manipulation. The defensiveness, or guilt, is the hook for manipulation.Also, if you can use your own experience of liberation to understand the anger of the oppressed, you will be able to accept it as a member of an oppressor group, not as an individual. Leave their processworking through their angerto the oppressed group. Give your attention to your own processbecoming an ally. Then we can all participate in the process we share, ending the oppression.7. Count your privileges; keep a list. Help others see them. Break the invisibility of privilege.8. If you hear an oppressive comment or see an example of oppression at work, try to speak up first. Do not wait for a member of the oppressed group to point it out. Sometimes this draws a response of “Oh, I don’t mind,” “It was just a joke,” or even anger directed at you from a member of an oppressed group. That person may be speaking out of their internalized oppression, or you may be off base. Just accept it, if you can; admit it is not your experience. More often you will find members of the oppressed group grateful that they did not have to raise the issue for a change.9. You must be patient and leave lots of room for the greater experience of members of the oppressed group, but there are also limits. If it becomes clear over time that you are being used or mistreated, say something or leave the situation. Here is an example: a group is interested in having you present as an ally for reasons of their safety or your contacts, legitimacy, or resources, but is not ready to offer you any information or support. The message might be: “Just shut up and do everything we tell you and don’t ask questions.” It is also hardly fair for the members of the oppressed group to direct all their anger, over a long period of time, at a well-meaning would-be ally. This is not reasonable treatment for anyone. It is fair for you to ask them to decide: do they want you to leave, or will they provide you with some support in your efforts to become an ally?10. Try to avoid the trap of “knowing what is good for them”: Do not take leadership. They are the only ones who can figure out what is good for them, and developing their own leadership strengthens their organizations. It is fine to add thoughts or resources to the process by asking questions of the individuals with whom you have already built up some trust and equality, who will not take it as coming from an authority greater than themselves just because you are a member of the oppressor group. It is not all right to take time at their meeting or public gathering to present your own agenda or to suggest in any way that they do not understand or see the big picture.11. Never take public attention or credit for an oppressed group’s process of liberation. Refuse to act as a spokesperson, even when reporters gravitate to you because they are more comfortable with you or curious about you. You should speak in public only if members of the oppressed group have asked you to speak from your point of view as an ally or to take a public role on their behalf because speaking out will be too dangerous for them.12. Do not expect every member of the oppressed group to agree; does your group agree on everything?13. Learn everything you can about the oppressionread, ask questions, listen. Your ignorance is part of the oppression. Find people in the oppressed group who like to teach and who see value in cultivating allies in general or you in particular. Ask them questions. Do not expect every member of the oppressed group to be ready and willing to teach you. When you are in the ally role, you have privileges and comfort in your life that members of the oppressed group do not have because of their oppression; they may not want to also give you their time and energy so that you can learn about them. They may not have the time or the energy.14. Support the process of unlearning oppression with other members of your own group. Do not usurp the role of communicating the experience of oppression that belongs only to members of the oppressed group. You can, however, share with other members of the oppressor group the journey of becoming an ally; you can help break through others’ ignorance of the oppression. Members of your own group might hear you when they cannot hear a member of the oppressed group.15. Remember that you will probably have to go out of your way to maintain your friendships and connections with members of the oppressed group. Our society is set up to separate different groups. Without a little extra effort, you will live in different parts of town and never cross paths. On the other hand, do not fall over backwards. It is not good to ignore the friends and support base you have already established because you are spending all your time working at the barriers or becoming a “hanger on” of the oppressed community in an inappropriate way.16. Try not to look to the oppressed group for emotional support. They will likely be ambivalent about you, happy on one hand to have your support, annoyed on the other at your remaining oppressor arrogance, your privilege, the attention you get as a member of the dominant group. Their energy is needed for their own struggle. This does not mean you will not receive support from members of the oppressed group, sometimes more than is warranted. For example, look at the praise men get for doing housework when women still do the vast majority of it. Try not to expect the oppressed group to be grateful to you.17. Be yourself. Do not try to claim the roots and sense of connection that a history of oppression can give to a community if it is not your own. Do not become what the Mi’Kmaw community calls a “Wannabe.” Dig into your own roots. The oppressive history of the group you belong to is a burden you carry. Search out the history of allies from your group as well. Dig even deeper than that. Every group started out as a people with roots in the earth somewhere. Find your own connection with your people’s history and the earth. If it is absolutely untraceable, find appropriate ones and rebuild roots and connections in the present for yourself. But do not try to steal someone else’s; you cannot anyway.18. Be yourself. Be honest. Express your feelings. Do not defend your internalized oppressor attitudes; say it hurts to discover another piece of it. Do not sit on your doubts (except in public gatherings or meetings where you are an observer); ask them of someone you trust. The key word is ask. Assume that you are a learner; good learners are open.”How To”Working with Allies When You Are a Member of the Oppressed GroupWhen the shoe is on the other foot, that is, when you find yourself in a situation where it is your oppression under consideration, the same [principles] are in operation, but they are applied a little differently. Here are some guidelines, from my experience, for the situations where you are a member of an oppressed group dealing with allies.1. Make a clear decision about if, why, when, and how you will work with allies. Do you want to work with allies at all? What can allies offer you that you would find useful? It is easy to know what you do not want members of the oppressor group to do; figure out what you do want them to do. Are there certain times, places, meetings, tasks, and functions where allies would be useful and others where their presence would be inappropriate? Be clear and concise about your degree of openness to allies. Make sure everyone agrees on what is appropriate or at least can live with the decisions without undermining the functions of the people who come in as allies. Working with allies brings a certain kind of struggle; be sure you are ready to enter into it.2. Allies need support and information. Decide before you begin working with them what you can offer. There needs to be someone in your group who has the patience for teaching allies more about the oppression you are dealing with.3. Be wise and canny about who is really an ally. If you end up with members of the oppressor group who are acting out of guilt, trying to replace lost roots, taking centre stage, or telling you what to do, you will end up with more frustration than help. Also, beware of people who have no consciousness of their status as a member of the oppressor group or who are unaware of their own oppression in other areas.4. Do not lump members of the oppressor group together, thinking of them as all “white,” “straight,” or “male.” Remember that everyone is or was also a member of an oppressed group and that people identify more with the parts of themselves that have been oppressed. You may see a woman as white, when she thinks of herself as Jewish; or you may think of a man as male, when he identifies himself as primarily gay.5. You must listen too.6. Be kind. Allies are taking a risk, exposing themselves to a situation that is bound to be painful at times.7. Try to be clear about who is the enemy. There are lots of people who hate you and want to oppress you, punish you, and keep you in your place. There are the rich and powerful who are creating, sometimes deliberately, more of the oppression you suffer daily. Allies are usually well-meaning people without a great deal of power in the system. They are more vulnerable to your anger because they lack power and because of their desire to be an ally. Do not waste resources fighting with them.8. Be yourself; be honest; express your opinions; be open. Working with allies is all part of a learning process for you too.Source: Excerpt from Anne Bishop. (2015). Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People (3rd ed.). Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.Imagine yourself being an ally to a group with (a) protected characteristic(s). Because of this association, you may yourself become the target of criticism, ridicule, alienation, or discrimination. How will you respond if this happens to you?Due to past negative experiences, some members of the group whom you have chosen to become an ally with may not trust you and may question your motivations. Are there any points from the reading that might be useful in dealing with this situation?Based on your own personal experience, what three observations presented by Anne Bishop in the reading resonate strongly with you, and why?Arts & HumanitiesReligious Studies SOCL MISC

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