• Madison Kerns

Unpacking Cultural Buzzwords: "Ally"

In the past year, we’ve seen a surge of the term “ally” in instagram bios, marketing campaigns, speeches. It’s become a bumper sticker for people to display everywhere, a mild attempt to prove where they stand in the midst of division. But how do we truly reconcile with the title “ally” and how should this role actually behave?

As life presents its rhythms, sometimes we find ourselves hearing a note over and over again. A friend may say a unique word that makes us pause and think “wow, haven’t heard that in a while” and then, suddenly, you hear it on television, a podcast, and see it in a book.

The concept of an ally rang in my ear one day, and the rhythm of my life played it repeatedly over the course of a week. It began in our Five Loaves training nights. As we stay socially-distant due to COVID, we meet virtually to learn how to make a dish from a student and discuss a concept that’s challenged them recently. In our most recent meeting, the student leader prompted the group to discuss integrity. How do we stand up for what is right? How do we love people well and promote honestly and justice? These hard-hitting questions that challenge all of us - and these students were discussing it while decorating cookies.

These students were talking about standing up for people. For caring for the kid who is getting bullied. For recognizing when injustice is being cast on someone undeserving and how to summon the courage to stand up against it.

I began hearing similar thoughts/questions in my daily life. In conversations with friends. In articles online. Finally, one week after our Five Loaves training night, I found myself in another virtual meeting — this time for our Porch Sittings monthly gathering. We unpacked the concept of what it means to be an ally. We all expressed the notion that it’s impossible to identify yourself by this title. Calling yourself an ally has the same paradox as calling yourself humble. If you tell people you’re either of these things, doesn’t that automatically prove your claim false?

As the conversation continued, the ideas began to sound increasingly similar to the discussion our Five Loaves students had a week prior. Being an ally is more than just educating yourself about a group identity of which you don’t belong (even though education is important). It’s more than placing a label on yourself so people can feel safe around you. It is choosing to live each day to stand up against injustice. To see your neighbor as just that — a neighbor — and coming alongside them when they’ve been treated poorly. It’s demonstrating integrity.

Pursuing integrity creates a life on which you don’t have to place a label because your actions are demonstrating your intentions. The term “ally” is no longer fully indicative of who you are, and, as it turns out, you didn’t even need the title in the first place.

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