Recent events and tragedies such as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others have shed a national spotlight on the ongoing racial injustices being experienced by BIPOC communities. Many universities, corporations, and organizations have released statements and action plans detailing how they plan to improve. Indeed, many of these initiatives have been in response to calls to action spearheaded by students and other young people. As future scientists, researchers, professors, mentors, clinicians, and policy makers, it is increasingly important for us to engage with these issues by educating ourselves and prioritizing time for action towards goals. However, we recognize that knowing where or how to start can be difficult. One recommendation is to devote effort towards allyship. We have compiled five starting steps for those looking to become better allies for our BIPOC colleagues, but check out Guide to Allyship for more.
- Be open to listening and accepting criticism, even if it’s uncomfortable. To become a better ally is to be open and willing to understand the experiences of those whom you want to support. The best method to reach that understanding is to commit yourself to being a good listener and accepting criticism, even if it makes you uncomfortable. When BIPOC colleagues share their narratives and concerns, consider it as an opportunity to grow and learn rather than get defensive. Understand that these concerns are not a personal attack, and trust the experiences of those who are oppressed. It may be useful to review these common behaviors/phrases and avoid them in conversation.
- Be aware of your privileges and how you unintentionally contribute to oppressive systems. Privilege is multidimensional and is shaped by an individual’s intersecting identities (e.g., race, gender, class, education, sexuality) and lived experiences. As an ally, it is important to acknowledge the privileges that you carry and have benefited from at the expense of others. If it feels difficult to believe this applies to you, try reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo for some context.
- Educate yourself and do your research! While often well-intentioned, asking your BIPOC colleagues to educate you on issues of systemic racism and oppression places a very heavy emotional and practical burden on them. Go one step further and work towards educating yourself and doing your research, so that you can educate other allies and relieve the labor from your BIPOC colleagues. Start with a book—Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, or go to an organizing event in your community. You can also check out ShutDownSTEM for a multimedia resource compilation or this podcast playlist if you prefer listening over reading.
- Use your privilege to amplify historically underrepresented voices (whether digitally or in-person). To become an effective ally, it’s important to use your own privilege to elevate the voices of your BIPOC colleagues and assist in efforts towards equity in academia and other institutions. As an ally, never speak for others, but dismantle obstacles faced by your BIPOC colleagues by allowing them to speak for themselves and standing with them.
- Commit to the continued time and effort it will take to become a better ally. Becoming a better ally is a daily process and not a one time event that occurs after recent tragedies experienced by BIPOC lives. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong: if it’s a choice between not speaking up at all OR speaking out and getting it wrong, then choose to get it wrong. Learn from your mistakes, and share with others what you have learned and strive towards doing better next time.