Originally published on Seattle 500 Women Scientist Medium page on 8/26/2020
Allyship is a journey, not a destination. All allies make mistakes and there are many ways that an ally can cause just as much harm as good to those they seek to support. Sometimes they can cause grievous harm, specifically because they were deemed safe in their professed roles as allies. Advocates, defined here as allies who speak on behalf of communities that they don’t belong to, are particularly vulnerable to causing harm to the communities they are trying to advocate for.
My personal belief is that in most circumstances this kind of direct advocacy (driven by people external to a community, in contrast to self advocacy) is not, in the long run, truly helpful and should be avoided whenever possible. Most of the time, allyship is best demonstrated by stepping back to support self-advocates speaking for themselves and their communities. However, there are plenty of instances when direct advocacy happens anyway, and there are even circumstances where it is truly necessary, such as when members of a community are effectively barred from accessing the levers of power that would relieve their oppression.