What is an ally?
An ally is someone who actively recognises and addresses racial inequality and commits to taking action against it.
Being an ally is not about charity or generosity – it’s about being aware of inequality, calling it out, and standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are working for equity and justice.
This page provides suggestions for how you can stand in allyship with First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
An important part of being an ally is having a thorough understanding of the ways in which racism works in society, and developing the tools to dismantle it. It’s also about understanding your own privilege and biases, the ways in which you might be complicit, and taking action to address these.
This website provides an introduction to some of the different ways that racism operates. However, the factors that enable and perpetuate racism can be complex. There is always more to learn, and as you increase your knowledge and understanding, you will strengthen your capacity for anti-racism. That’s why we’ve provided a list of further resources that can help your understanding of the issues associated with racism.
We also recommend you visit the resource hub, and connect with, and follow, some of the many individuals and community organisations doing important anti-racism work. There is a wealth of information and knowledge out there.
It’s important to remember you won’t always get it right. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it, apologise if someone has been negatively impacted, and take the opportunity to reflect on how you can avoid this happening in the future.
Educating yourself about racism also includes learning about your own racial privilege and bias. See the Key Terms section of the website for more information on racial privilege and bias. Each of us engages in society from a different perspective, and with that comes certain experiences, beliefs and preferences. These can create blind spots, or points where we make assumptions based on our preconceptions or beliefs. It is these blind spots that can often inhibit our ability to see or understand the way a certain system or behaviour might affect another person, or to see or understand a particular system or behaviour as racist. Often, we are not conscious of our own biases until we make the effort to become aware of them. By acknowledging our blind spots, we make space for learning and gaining a better understanding of other peoples’ experiences.
Examining your own bias and place in society is a vital part of being an ally.
Think about your privilege
Allies who recognise their privilege and actively leverage it to promote change can be powerful voices in support of those who’s rights and freedoms are oppressed.
An ally, first and foremost, supports the voices of individuals and communities that struggle to be heard because of inequality or oppression, and promotes those voices instead of speaking for them.
An ally is aware that their experience of the world is shaped by their experiences, which may not necessarily be shared by others. Reflect on the way your privileges impact on your life, as this will allow you to better understand how structural barriers impact others’ experience of the world.
Take the time to listen
No two experiences are the same. Unless you have experienced the negative effects of racism and inequality it is very hard to understand the experiences of those who have.
Truth telling and storytelling are two important tools to educate the broader community about inequality and disadvantage.
Allies listen to these truths and stories without being defensive or judgemental, and practice active anti-racism as a means to address the underlying institutional and systemic barriers that contribute to inequality and disadvantage in our society.
Talk to your friends and family
The Racism. It Stops With Me Conversation Guide provides support for those who want to talk to their colleagues, friends and family about racism. You can download the guide by clicking here. Note that clicking the link will download a zip folder to your computer, containing a PDF and an accessible word version of the document.
The Let's Talk Race Conversation Guide can help you have challenging conversations about racism in the workplace.
Having conversations about race or racism may not always feel comfortable, particularly with family and friends – but shying away can mean that important opportunities are missed, because these conversations are a chance to change peoples’ thinking. Part of being an ally means having those conversations and not expecting people who experience the negative effects of racism to be the ones to do so.
The Bystander Action page of this website provides advice on addressing racism if you observe it among family and friends. Conversations about racism do not always need to be negative – they are often about sharing your own insights with the people close to you. Acknowledge that you are on a journey and ask others to join you.
Another good way to engage friends and family in discussions about racism is to share stories with them. Visit the Resource Hub for information and resources you may want to share.
Respect First Nations sovereignty
Australia is the only Commonwealth country that does not have a treaty with its First Nations peoples. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been calling for a treaty, or treaties, for a long time. In 2017, First Nations people from across Australia gathered to collectively call for meaningful constitutional change, truth-telling and agreement making between governments and First Nations peoples. This collective statement was called the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Among other things, the statement called for a ‘fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for [Indigenous] children based on justice and self-determination.’1
For more information on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, watch Quandamooka advocate and consultant Dean Parkin discussing the statement and its drafting process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB-31jD4XcA
In June 2020, we sought advice from Yorta Yorta writer, academic and public health practitioner, Summer May Finlay, on what allyship with First Nations communities look like. Here’s what she had to say:
1. If you witness racism, say something:
It’s essential to call out racism, whether it’s racist jokes, stereotypes or negative attitudes. If someone says something inappropriate, speak up. Silence condones racism.
Example: Challenge racist social media post via comments.
2. Don’t expect Indigenous people to educate you
Allies know Indigenous history through self-education. Indigenous people are only about 3% of the population, and have different levels of knowledge about culture and history. It’s not reasonable to expect Indigenous people to educate you.
Example: Learn about the impact of the stolen generations by watching Healing Foundation videos.
3. Appreciate the diversity among Indigenous people
Indigenous people are not all the same. Differences may be based on age, gender, connection to culture, geography and nation. And remember, differences don’t make people more or less Indigenous.
Example: Appreciate that Indigenous people may have different views on the same topic.
4. Please stick with us even when things are tough
Championing Indigenous equity isn’t always easy. An ally stands with us at all times, not just when it is easy or fun.
Example: Add your name to Indigenous-led campaigns and share them on social media.
5. Promote Indigenous voices
Allies allow Indigenous people to speak for themselves. Centring Indigenous people on issues impacting them means making sure that their voices are heard.
Example: On social media, promote articles, infographics and videos by Indigenous people or their organisations.
6. Be prepared to not be part of decision making
Indigenous people live their culture, they experience the world as an Indigenous person and know their communities best. Therefore, a good ally appreciates Indigenous people need to make the decisions impacting them.
Example: Ask Indigenous people their views on matters relating to them rather than making these decisions yourself.
7. Don’t go it alone
Indigenous people should be leading events or issues involving Indigenous people. This means non-Indigenous people need to support Indigenous people to take the leadership role.
Example: If a NAIDOC school event is being organised, make sure you ask the Indigenous person who is leading what you can do to help.
- Uluru Statement from the Heart (National Constitutional Convention, 26 May 2017).