Allies: Real Talk About Showing Up, Screwing Up, And Trying Again

This book is for everyone. Because we can all be allies.

As an ally, you use your power—no matter how big or small—to support others. You learn, and try, and mess up, and try harder. In this collection of true stories, 17 critically acclaimed and bestselling YA authors get real about being an ally, needing an ally, and showing up for friends and strangers.

From raw stories of racism and invisible disability to powerful moments of passing the mic, these authors share their truths. They invite you to think about your own experiences and choices and how to be a better ally. There are no easy answers, but this book helps you ask better questions. Self-reflection prompts, resources, journaling ideas, and further reading suggestions help you find out what you can do.

Because we’re all in this together. And we all need allies.

“Doing nothing is a behavior.”
-Brendan Kiely 

Edited by authors Shakirah Bourne and Dana Alison Levy, who also contribute, Allies is as the title suggests is an accounting of “real talk about showing up, screwing up, and trying again.” Sixteen very real, very honest accounts of allyship in all its forms from authors/speakers/activists such as Adiba Jaigirdar, Eric Smith, Marietta B. Zacker, Naomi and Natalie Evans, Andrea L. Rogers, and many more.

Now, depending on where you are on your journey to being an ally to marginalized people, this book will either be a revelation or further reinforcement that you are doing right by a people who have historically been vilified, abused, demeaned, and held back through no fault of their own. If it’s a case of the former, welcome to allyship, and like almost anything else you’ll realize quickly that being an ally is not monolithic. It takes on many shapes and sizes, and not everyone you meet will be one of history’s greatest revolutionaries. In fact, many of the things you’ll do as an ally are actually quite small, easily accessible, and seemingly insignificant, and that should assuage any sense of anxiety or dismay you may have at the prospect of such an endeavor. But trust me when I say this, while the actions may appear inconsequential, that pales in comparison to the impact you can have on someone else’s life.

“It’s only when we come together with our personhood intact on both sides that true allyship is possible.”
-Kayla Whaley 

Like many last year I often found myself full of rage and sadness at the events unfolding across America, and to a certain degree, the world. For a large portion of the population, particularly in the United States, if 2020 will be known for anything, and there’s a lot to choose from, it’s that many people of color and various backgrounds had had enough. George Floyd, while a revelation for some, was further evidence that the system in America doesn’t route for its citizens equally, even allowing violence, and worse, to be acted upon them in plain sight by the very people sworn to protect them. The Black communities have been dealing with state sponsored brutality for hundreds of years, but with George Floyd, the match was lit like it hasn’t been in quite some time. And with no repercussions to be found anywhere, people took to the streets in vast numbers across the world, demanding justice and equality.

Like I said, for Black communities this was nothing new, what was new, was the allyship that came out in numbers not seen for some time, if ever. But like support often does, this too ceded over time with few continuing to fight in meaningful ways against a monster of a system, even months later, comparatively speaking. For some it’s a matter of retention, for others, simply too many hurdles in front of them designed to crowd the field, distract, and draw your attention elsewhere. It’s a sick system designed by those in power to ensure there’s always at least one foot on the necks of those they deem less than, and as such, you don’t need me to remind you that hate never goes away and it rarely sleeps.

“If we aren’t allies, who will be?”
-I.W. Gegorio

At the start of 2020 I considered myself an ally, but when I sat down and really gave it some thought, was this just a core value full of platitudes and inaction? What kind of ally was I actually being to people whose feelings I always considered but perhaps didn’t do all I could do to support? Core values define the type of person you want to be, but character traits make us who we are, it is about the way we act, react, and interact with others. So, was I a person of character or just a core value person, patting myself on the back, but effectively sitting this one out like so man others?

No one can be or do everything, it’s impossible; all you can do is the best you can with what you’ve got. So, I took a good hard look at myself and what I had to offer, and a decision was made to do more than I was doing. Besides, it wasn’t that difficult a decision once I decided I wanted to be a better ally, and I’ll tell you what, it felt pretty damn great. My allyship included things like redirecting my donations and fundraising activities, being more active on social media, and altering my purchasing choices, just to name a few. Some of the choices I made were easy, some required a little effort, and some are still a work in progress, but NONE are anywhere near as painstaking as what marginalized people face every single day. And I’m not naïve or foolish enough to think I’m changing the fabric of time and space with my decisions, but I do believe every little bit helps, and that’s my advice to you, and that’s what you’ll gleam from this amazing book from the fine folks at DK Publishing.

“Being an ally, first of all, is a constant act-not a state of being.” 
-Dana Alison Levy

Allies starts off with an “Allyship for dummies…” type of chapter from one of the book’s editors, Dana Alison Levy, and if that was the entirety of this book, that would be good enough. It’s a plainly spoken but highly effective introduction to the world of allyship. It’s also a pragmatically imbued pithy primer for the 15 or so real-life testimonials you’re about to go through, which, full disclosure, may be difficult reading for some. Truth and honesty are like that, they’re not always easy to hear, especially when it causes an uncomfortable yet inevitable bit of self-reflection, but you can’t start your journey without them, it’s that simple. You can’t afford to and neither can the marginalized people who may need your allyship.

These testimonials and attestations deliver a wide cross-section of bigotry, ignorance, and hate, covering a decent amount of real estate in the spectrum of allyship. Intersexuality, physical disabilities, mental health, racism, sexism, and Islamophobia are all touched upon in some way by these audacious souls, and that’s just a few of the topics you can expect to read about either as a solo act or through the lens of Intersectionality. Put simply, these authors share their truths, moments of honest reflections and deliberations all meant to provide real life examples of both good and bad allyship.

Ultimately the point of all this is to show you that bigotry, ableism, chauvinism, any “ism” and “phobia” you can dream up takes many forms, and therefor so should your allyship. Brendan Keily says, “Doing nothing is behaviour” and that’s a very powerful statement as it really calls out a majority of the population who don’t always say something, when they see something. It’s a truism that saying nothing is as complicit as the hateful act itself, whatever it may be, and I urge those new to ally-dom to flex this muscle early and often. So, if you’re struggling to find a starting point, make it this, if you see something, say something.

“It can feel impossible to choose your battles when you have no idea what people are fighting with you about.” 
-Eric Smith

What’s great about this book is the complete lack of pretension; it isn’t preachy, it isn’t performative, it’s real people talking about real issues, and what you do with that information is entirely up to you. There are no glares being cast nor are their judgements being made, it’s an honest exchange, a silent understanding that if this book is in your hands, guidance and insight is exactly what you’re looking for. And entries like Brendan Kiely’s A Bus, A Poster, and a Mirror and I.W. Gregorio’s From Author, to Ally, to Co-conspirator which obstinately describes situations in their life when they were circumspect in the defense of others, really help form this narrative around the concept of reconciliation through learning, through listening, through atonement.

And the back matter of the book titled, “Stuff to think about…” allows you to do just that, which is really more of a resource guide, meant to kick-start your journey into allyship, help you organize your thoughts and put together an action plan. There you’ll find things such as organizations you can support, helpful books, advice when it comes to social interactions, and so on. It’s meant to help you come to terms with everything you’ve just read, which can be very emotional at times, and help sort through your feelings on any one particular issue or multiple even. It compartmentalizes the different avenues so that you can find one that’s perhaps best suited for you; help you achieve realistic goals in both the short and long term. Remember what I said about no one person can do it all? Well, this is the part of the book where the rubber meets the road so to speak, putting some action behind those core values, character gasoline.

“The next step is learning to shut up both the inner and outer voices, and listen to various people from marginalized communities.” 
-Shakirah Bourne
So, what’s the bottom line?
While not necessarily a forensic examination at the ills of society or clinical look at human nature, Allies more importantly is a usable and practical guide that is dripping with honesty and truth. And again, depending where you are on your journey, the mileage you get out of this book may vary, but whether it serves as a primer or a means to bolster your resolve, its importance cannot be understated. This is a must-have for anyone hoping, wishing, trying for a better world, and the first step on your allyship journey is an easy one, as Shakirah says, shut up and listen.

Allies is on sale now, to order a copy today click HERE! A portion of the proceeds from this book goes to supporting charities.

In keeping with the theme and format of the book, I thought it only fitting that I end this review with some words of wisdom from someone I admire very much.

I reached out to author Adiba Jaigirdar (The Henna Wars, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating) who contributes a moving account of just some of her experiences with prejudice and allyship, and asked if she would answer a few questions. As a Bengali Queer Muslim, Adiba has faced more than her fair share of vileness in what should have been safe spaces. But having come through on the other side more determined, she knows exactly what allyship should look like and how important it truly is.

And while I originally had only planned on paraphrasing her, unsurprisingly her answers we thoughtful, concise, and important, and who the hell am I to mess with perfection? So, Adiba gets the final word…enjoy!

What does “allyship” mean to you? 

“Allyship to me is the action of people who are supportive of marginalized communities. Who listen to us, make space for us, and center us. It’s not a title that a person can hold, it’s not a part of someone’s bio. It’s an action. You are an ally when you are actively being an ally.”

When attempting to step outside of ourselves and recognize that other folks’ lived reality might be different from our own, what’s a good first step that someone can take who is looking to become an ally?

“I think the best first step is always doing independent research. This means seeking out people speaking about specific topics and reading extensively. Not just using one source as the sole voice of a marginalized community. The reason why I think this is a good first step is because when a lot of people first come to allyship, they do a lot of centering. Unlearning does not always look pretty, but unfortunately for a lot of people, unlearning looks like further burdening marginalized communities they want to be allies to! So, start off with independent learning without burdening and harming marginalized communities. Not everything can be independently researched obviously, and often you don’t know what you don’t know, but this can be a good step into allyship.”

Can someone who has said or done harmful things in that past still be considered an ally, assuming they’ve reconciled?

Yes, absolutely. But on the condition that nobody should ever see allyship as an absolute. What I mean by that is everybody makes mistakes and has done harmful things. But the label of ally doesn’t erase everything bad we have done, even if we have reconciled our past mistakes and grown from them. Some people are not going to forgive you. Some people will still be wary of you no matter how far you have come. The most you can do as an ally is accept that and do your best.

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