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The Work of Allyship

Have you ever accidently stepped on someone’s toe? What about stubbed your own? OUCH! What if you were wearing a boot that protected your foot from feeling if you’ve stepped on someone’s toe, or prevents you from ever stubbing your toe. What if someone shouts, “Hey! You stepped on my toe – that really hurt!”

 

How do we react?

 

This is an over-simplified analogy on how privilege and oppression can operate in our community – and how we are walking in a community of people wearing lots of different shoes. The metaphor of “protective boots” represents the privilege of not feeling your toes being stepped on; racism and oppression are systems that structure opportunity, and assign value based on race - which unfairly disadvantages individuals and communities without that privilege. This structure of oppression is a critical social determinant of health. Practicing allyship is a way to participate in dismantling that structure to make our communities more equitable, safe, and protective of all races.

 

Kayla Reed and Presley Pizzo discuss this idea of “Boots and Sandals” in the “Guide To Allyship”, and share some common responses that are problematic to practicing allyship:

· Centering yourself: “I can’t believe you think I’m a toe-stepper! I’m a good person!”

· Denial that others’ experiences are different from your own: “I don’t mind when people step on my toes.”

· Derailing: “Some people don’t even have toes, why aren’t we talking about them instead?”

· Refusal to center the impacted: “All toes matter!”

· Tone policing: “I’d move my foot if you’d ask me more nicely.”

· Denial that the problem is fixable: “Toes getting stepped on is a fact of life. You’ll be better off when you accept that.”

· Victim blaming: “You shouldn’t have been walking around people with boots!”

· Withdrawing: “I thought you wanted my help, but I guess not. I’ll just go home.”

 

If you step on someone’s toe – literally – what is the first thing you usually say? Probably, “I’m sorry”. Or maybe, “Are you okay”. You listen to their response, you hear maybe they may need some ice, and you move out of the way to make sure it does not happen again. This is an example of empathy - an attainable way to begin practicing allyship! We often hear how hard or challenging or uncertain about how to begin “allyship” it may feel. And in most cases, the challenge is real – and we should lean into that. Challenge = growth, right!? But one key ingredient to allyship that everyone has the ability to start right now: listening and replacing any type of harm with empathy. Some examples of this may be:

· Center the impacted: “Are you okay?”

· Listen to their response and learn: Stay present, and maybe quiet so you can hear the other person. Ask clarifying questions for what may feel new.

· Apologize for the impact, even though you didn’t intend it: “I’m sorry!”

· Stop the instance: move your foot

· Stop the pattern: be careful where you step in the future. When it comes to oppression, we want to actually change the “footwear” to get rid of privilege and oppression (sneakers for all!), but metaphors can only stretch so far!

No one should be looking for an honorable “ally” badge….or shoe. Allyship is how we walk with the shoes we have on, to ensure everyone’s toes are protected, equal, and safe.

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Sep 20 2021 - Sep 20 2021
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About SARA

The mission of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) is to eliminate sexual violence and its impact by providing education, advocacy and support to men, women and children. Our vision is a community free from sexual violence.

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We are located in Charlottesville, Virginia and serve:

  • City of Charlottesville
  • Albemarle County
  • Louisa County
  • Nelson County
  • Fluvanna County
  • Greene County

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