How to Be an Ally in Times of Unrest (and Always)

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

In case you have managed to miss it, here’s the short rundown of #NotAgainSU, a Black student-led movement at Syracuse University. According to organizers, they are “protesting the racial incidents that have been occurring on Syracuse U’s campus because they are being swept under the rug by administration.”

The movement has occupied Crouse-Hinds Hall, the university’s admissions building, since Feb. 17 in protest of over 25 racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and homophobic incidents occurring on campus since November. 

With nearly 13,000 followers on Instagram as, they are even impossible to avoid on social media. Whether you’re involved in the protests or not, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of them. 

If, like me, you are in a position of privilege, you may wonder how you fit into this movement. While wanting to offer support, you may not be sure where to go or how to use your voice. So here’s our guide to being an ally, especially during times of civil unrest. 

Listen to Minorities

Alice Olom, an organizer with the Black Lives Matter movement in Syracuse, says, “allyship is listening. Listening is a very big part of allyship.” 

Everyone has a voice and a right to be heard. Unfortunately, systemic oppression causes some voices to be louder than others. Your responsibility as an ally is to not take that space from those voices already silenced. That’s not to say it can’t be a conversation, but you aren’t the person who decides what oppression looks like. 

Acknowledge and Use Your Privilege

Privilege, especially white privilege, is something that I think many white people struggle to understand. Peggy McIntosh famously explains it in her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, which I encourage you to read for a better understanding of daily instances where your privilege gives you an advantage. 

“We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned or conferred by birth or luck. Yet some of the conditions I have described here work systematically to over empower certain groups,” says McIntosh in the article.

Olom provided a few recommendations for students with privilege, including reaching out to outside contacts, such as attorneys or other individuals of power, to get them involved with the movement. She also spoke to the importance of showing up at protests themselves, and using your body as a barrier between the minority students and police. 

At the very least, it is important to utilize one’s privilege through offering necessary supplies to protesters and spreading the movement’s messages on social media. 

Set Your Ego Aside 

This tip came from, Guide to Allyship, a helpful website created by Amélie Lamont that has more information if you’re still trying to find a way to help out.

As an ally, it is not your responsibility to solve racism, but to be a part of the collective movement to end systemic oppression. To do so, it is important to put your ego aside and listen to marginalized voices without overpowering them.

“It is more about listening to the others and trying to help them bring their solution forward,” says Olom. She emphasized that it is not on allies to come up with solutions, but allies should do what they can to help bring solutions to life. 

Implicit bias can play a role as well. Implicit bias is defined by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicityas “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” It can play a serious role in how you treat people without even realizing. 

It is important, especially as an ally, to understand your implicit biases, and do your best to let them go. If nothing else, understand them, so your actions are not dictated by them.

Ultimately, “allyship is a lifelong process. So it’s not just after #NotAgainSU protests are done and everything is done. This is a thing where it has to be ongoing,” says Olom. Even after the protests are resolved, it is important that an ally remain informed, and practice the skills listed above to make things better for all of us.