March 25, 2021

When a person might be suffering because of what’s happening in the world, it’s natural to want to do something. We’re a year-plus into the pandemic, and suffering is everywhere. Someone you know might be mourning a death. They might be worried about a loved one. They might be worried about themselves.

It’s human to want to do something. Doing something meaningful is what separates performative allyship from genuine allyship. Allyship is an ongoing investment in supporting others.

Let’s start with what allyship doesn’t look like. Putting aside the recent high-profile departures at the podcast Reply All, the episode “The Least You Could Do” — which aired a few weeks after George Floyd was killed by police — offers a quality examination of performative allyship. Performative allyship is when someone seeks out praise for doing what was the right thing all along.

True allyship starts with doing something that feels natural to you. And you do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because you seek to be recognized.

If you truly want to do right by people who might be hurting — perhaps because of current events — here are tangible ways to lend support. These tactics apply anytime you’re reaching out to a group that you might not be part of.

Do you have a genuine connection?

Maybe you saw a social media post that prompted you to think about people you know who are in that category.

Before you send your friend a text or DM, ask: What do you hope to accomplish by reaching out? Are you ready for someone to unload frustrations on you? Will you listen without judgment or trying to say, “I know what it’s like”?

Take a moment to think about the kinds of societal privilege you might enjoy. Does your friend come from similar life experiences? At a time when they might be hurting, it’s not their job — it never has been — to make you feel better.

Perhaps you wonder whether you should check in with a colleague. Ask yourself whether your relationship is deeper than the transactional nature of your job functions. If this might be among the only times you have reached out to that colleague, your action might be seen as performative.

Read. Watch. Listen. Learn.

Have you taken the time to be educated about whichever group is in pain? Again, it’s not your friend’s job to educate you.

Examine the diversity in your friend circle and media diet. The Maynard Institute created Fault Lines, a way to think about our own place in the world based on six characteristics that are pretty firmly established in our childhood.

Are you regularly encountering ideas that differ from how you identify in gender, age, socioeconomics, sexual orientation and/or race? What about geography? Take the time to be informed about places other than the ones you’ve experienced. You can do this in your choice of TV shows, books, podcasts and neighborhoods you frequent.

Take tangible action

Checking in on a friend seems like the right thing to do. Maybe it is. It depends on your relationship. But we can figure out our own ways to contribute in other meaningful ways.

Donating — time or money — to a trustworthy cause is an actionable way to make a difference. You can give money anonymously if you truly want to help without claiming credit.

Be empathetic

Every one of us can do something each day to make the world better for someone else. A key way to make someone feel heard and seen is to be empathetic. That means letting their perspective be their truth. It’s hard not to sit in judgment, Brené Brown says. The more you practice, the stronger an empath you’ll be.

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As director of training and diversity at Poynter, Doris Truong is responsible for overseeing in-person training — at the institute and in newsrooms — as…
Doris Truong

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