What are the Three Foundational Understandings?
To step into Active-Allyship, there are three foundational understandings we must embody: understanding privilege, utilizing an intersectional lens, and exposing our implicit biases.
Privilege exists in the ways we are perceived and the areas to which we have access. It is supported by systems, institutions, and the individuals who exist within both.
Understanding privilege means understanding it can vary from person to person and group to group. The insidiousness of privilege is not if you feel privileged, nor if feel you do not perpetuate oppression. The strength in privilege is hidden in the perceptions of others and the assumptions we carry with us. It’s important to remember that privilege has many forms, and just about everyone has some form of it.
Privilege has many forms, and just about everyone has some form of it.
Utilizing an intersectional lens requires a base understanding of intersectionality. When thinking about intersectionality in relation to active-allyship, what we are looking at are the intersections of systems of oppression, intersections of systems of privilege, and the intersections of both.
Often intersectionality is reduced to single identities. When Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined this term, she was bringing light to the intersections of oppression. To the very unique experiences of Black women. A Black woman is more likely to receive, and experience discrimination based on sexism and racism combined.
When we expand our understanding of intersectionality to include the systems of privilege, we can see the ways in which identities are weaponized against those of marginalized classes. Our work is to understand, acknowledge, and challenge the systems of privilege that directly create, support, and uphold the systems of oppression. It is often difficult to understand and acknowledge that we inherently uphold the very systems of oppression which many of us work to change.
It is often difficult to understand and acknowledge that we inherently uphold the very systems of oppression which many of us work to change.
An intersectional lens is asking, “Who’s missing? From where are we basing decisions? Does what we do consider the multifaceted ways of being?” When I work with educators, we look at their curricula through an intersectional lens. And, often, they find what and who they teach is skewed in one direction. With mental health service providers, we look at their processes, accessibility, educational history, and the power dynamics between them and their clients.
A difficulty many folks face in understanding intersectionality is implicit bias. We must be willing to let go of the insistence that we aren’t one of “them”—the perpetrators of oppression. We must be willing to see others in these ways. The only way we can begin to challenge our implicit biases is if we are willing to see them.
For example, a bias one might hold is that all gay people dress the same way. While this doesn’t directly cause harm, it does affect the way in which we interact or engage with others. Implicit biases inform how and with whom we interact, as well as the choices we make. Many of us believe we are not judgmental beings, that we treat everyone the same. We do not. If you are someone who wishes to create a positive change in your environment,
you must begin with who you are, what you feel, how you behave, and the choices you make.
You must begin with the not so hidden beliefs and views you hold of yourself and others. Each of these foundational concepts/tools are not finite. Some folks will utilize the process (The Active-Ally Model) to move through and embody these understandings.
Next Week: Phase One: Awareness
Kyle Sawyer (he/they) is an anti-oppression facilitator and educator specializing in working with individuals and organizations on how to turn privilege into change. He is a trans, queer, mixed-race, white-passing individual. With over a decade of experience Kyle founded Building Allies in 2013 and developed the term Active-Ally, someone who witnesses injustice and responds to it in any situation. Kyle has worked with teachers, nonprofit organizations, students, therapists, social workers, community members, family members, and many others on learning how to be Active-Allies through an intersectional lens.