Race, The World, Inequality

Learning to be a real ally can be more painful than you think

People that seem to truly desire change, yet don’t do anything about it. Because apparently - they just don’t know how.

How To Be An Ally’ is a short, animated video about being an ally to women of color. It is a simple clip, made for those close to us. By “us,” I am referring to myself and the fifty other women of color that I interviewed in order to create this video.

Although they now either live in Europe, the UK, or the US, these women have roots in: South Africa, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Japan, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, Bangladesh and the Caribbean.

Broadly speaking, this video targets people who already agree that racism, xenophobia and islamophobia suck. People that might share political articles on Facebook, or type away angry tweets about racist/xenophobic/islamophobic events, but will stay silent when someone says something as racist in public.

People that seem to truly desire change, yet don’t do anything about it. Because apparently – they just don’t know how.

Curious to know what people actually could do to help, I began to ask the women of color around me. The interviews asked about the struggles they face on a day to day basis on account of their racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identities, and who – if anyone supported them in dealing with these. If so, how did they do that? What does their ideal form of ally-ship look like?

As you could imagine, answers were extremely varied. Here are a few that stood out to me:

A French-Moroccan woman recounted being followed around by the police in stores when she tries to go shopping. A Thai woman in the UK spoke of how people often talk down to her as though she were a second-class citizen. An Indian woman in the US said that she had been laughed at (on several occasions, by grown adults) for saying her own name. Several Muslim women shared that they had been verbally abused and sometimes physically attacked in all of these countries for walking down the street in their hijab. A Kenyan woman that she was discriminated in university classrooms just for being black, and the list goes on, and on.

Carrying out these interviews was painful, to say the least. There were certainly times when I could relate to the rude comments and uncomfortable interactions the women spoke about. But it also highlighted my ignorance towards the struggles faced by minority groups that are not my own, myself being the daughter of well-off Iranian immigrants to the West.

It raised my awareness about issues that I would have formerly never considered. I was quite struck by how long I’d gone in my life without even considering for example the particular discrimination that East Asian women are subject to in the communities I navigate, or without thinking about how I’d never been an ally to queer women of color in my vicinity. With people around me constantly telling me to be grateful that things are not so bad, and with my own wishful thinking always operating at full force – these interviews were certainly a hard pill to swallow.

Eventually, I noted with every interview that the answers to the ally-ship questions, were pretty unanimous. The word “listen” was repeated to me, in fifty different voices.

Sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly, sometimes with a tone of urgency and deep frustration.

Other suggestions included the simple act of looking things up and educating oneself instead of making broad assumptions. There was a strong desire for people to speak up when they realize something isn’t right. Accompanied by a push for more tangible actions, such as signing petitions, protesting, fundraising and donating.

Check out the video for more details on what these women asked for, and apologies in advance for the cheesy background music.