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10 Ways Allyship Is Like Dieting
Short-term fixes work for a little while. Here's how to stop yo-yoing and make lasting change
Starting a practice of antiracism and authentic allyship* is like dieting in several ways.
Short-term fixes and superficial tweaks may work for a little while, but the backslide can be calamitous. There are habits you have to chuck, new patterns to trick your brain into — and you need to constantly remind yourself that the new, better you waiting round the corner is worth it.
Like dieting, an allyship journey can include moments of shame and frustration, as you realize you had no idea that you’d drifted so far from your before-times vision of a svelter, more in-step you. Indeed, as our national and societal conversation and reality around race, sisterhood, justice, and self-awareness have shifted so rapidly (though some would argue it has taken much too long!), many seemingly smart and with-it women may find ourselves wondering, “what is this new verbiage and framework about? What did I miss? Is there hope for me?”
Another way that antiracism is akin to dieting is that discussing it is often not welcomed in polite society. As with body shaming, there is an expectation that each of us is perfectly rendered, naturally possessing all the right moves and mindsets; one can be made to fear that anything short of having Rachel Cargle— or Naomi Osaka–level awareness can feel like the social justice equivalent of wearing a Jazzercise t-shirt to a Peloton class.
Everyone Has Anti-Bias Work to Do
And though diet ads and the wellness space love to show skinny blondes in their marketing pitches (ironic? oxymoronic? confusing!), the dieting industry should make space for all of us — and so it is with antiracism. As a Black woman, I have my own snap judgements and biases to work against. And as our national conversation about what “solidarity” means continues to advance and expand, we all have lessons to learn and unlearn, across our society. It is dynamic and living work.
Finally, one more thought about parallels between antiracism and dieting: it’s not something you need to do for anyone else. You have to sincerely, truly want to do it, for yourself. Because this journey is not always easy. Here are ten recent observations that may make your work more joyful and your outcome more successful.
Antiracism is Not a Flash in the Pan
- Not a fad, a lifestyle shift. One of the worst reasons to enter a practice of antiracism or allyship is because everyone else is doing it. “Ally” is actually a verb — and superficial “fixes” like posting a black square on your Insta feed, or wearing a cute slogan t-shirt are the emotional and social equivalent of grapefruit and cottage cheese, or worse, Fen-phen: superficial and ineffective When revealed, pretend allyship erodes trust even further — the opposite effect of what you seek!
- Self-improvement is for you. Essential: delving into the work of your own (often hidden, sometimes shameful) biases and blind spots can hurt. In a society where we are encouraged to Photoshop our lives into an idealized perfection, it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon. But the allyship journey is painful, sad, sometimes overwhelming – and most of all, intimate. So as much as your workplace, church, family members, and even social circle may be encouraging racial justice awareness and perhaps activism, if you don’t believe in it yourself, it won’t go far.
A great tool for documenting and working through the discovery and the feelings is a journal. This can be a simple notebook, something like Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: A Guided Journal, or perhaps a day-planner/guided journal that includes history lessons centering Women of Color, such as our Brave Sis Journey-Journal.
Take the Route of Kindness
- It starts with the heart. The only reason to do the work of authentic allyship is because there are people in your life or whom you would like to have in your life who are different from you, and you want to be truly, honestly, lovingly in relationship with them. Do not try to befriend someone of a different race or ethnicity because you are curious about them/you want to be seen as a “good” person. Friendship is not a performance, and folks do not exist for your narrative or comfort. The person you seek closeness to is also a full human being with a choice about who they let into their lives. Important note: workplace rules of engagement are an entirely different category. You can be civil and not a jerk without requiring everyone to become your BFF.
- Sticks don’t stick. One of the least successful forms of DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) training is the kind where the workshop leader lays in on the blame game. Yes, we live in a very faulty society, built on an economic, political, and social fallacy called race. In establishing a system where one group was ordained to have dominion over the others, endless suffering and abomination are part of our American story (example: the deliberate erasure and silencing of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, so somberly discussed earlier this year). But a caution to the trainers who arrive with the slap: you might get the short-term acquiescence — and it can feel important to get it off your chest: people need to understand how unimaginably inhumane their forebears were, and how their silence or choice to remain unaware is a form of complicity and privilege. Yes. But more often than not, behavioral or attitudinal change borne out of guilt ends up feeling like a chore, not a choice. When motivated by guilt, we may rush to the “finish line” to feel free of the negative sensation. With racial justice, however, there is no finish line.
Effort is Required
- Retrain your brain. If you grew up believing Doritos with Charleston Chews for dessert was a viable option, or feeling cigarettes meant you were edgy or glamorous, or rode as a kid in a car without a seatbelt, you know that a lot of things we used to think were not so bad, actually were very bad. Thanks to a tradition of Hollywood, Madison Avenue, pop culture, literary works, fashion, news media, legislation — heck, everything in our society — few of us escape a mindset steeped in stereotypes. These stereotypes drown and limit us. Furthermore, we live under a prevalent narrative that whiteness is the norm — even search engines and AI want us to accept this. If it is not white, it requires “handicapping” your perceptions. But, just like we had to accept Funyuns are not actually food, we can also develop new ways to perceive our “norms” about stereotypes.
Quick exercise: when you hear these titles, what face comes into your mind’s eye?
- Pageant queen
- Sex symbol
- Single mother
- Yoga instructor
What did you discover?
- Your results may vary. After I got vaccinated, I signed up for a weight-loss app that required I catalogue every morsel I ate. I was thinking I better get a handle on the pandemic poundage. After three months, I had only lost three pounds (!) but what I did gain was an awareness of my previously unconscious eating and snacking habits, and a new appreciation of less calorie-dense foods. These new eating norms will probably serve me better than the diet I did a few years ago where I lost eight pounds but loathed Wednesdays and Thursdays, where I was limited to boiled eggs, kale, and codfish. Depending on where you are starting from, who is in your life and community, and the belief systems you need to dismantle, your new more authentic antiracist self may take a while to emerge. Being honest that it is a journey, and that you are sincerely trying, not only takes the pressure off and makes long-term success more viable but it also will be appreciated by the People of Color with whom you may be trying to connect.
Don’t give up.
Antiracism is Good for You
- Find strength in numbers. One benefit of Zoom living is that the digital space has created more ways for women to convene (in both culturally homogenous groups or mixed-ethnicity circles) and talk openly and honestly about issues related to race, racism, and identity. Seek out an affinity group that deprioritizes judgement and feels like a safe space to ask, and more importantly, listen. Google locally to see if you can find a local progressive religious group or university center hosting an antiracist book club or learning circle. If you want to start your own, here’s one helpful resource./ If group work feels overwhelming, journaling can be a helpful alternative.
- Don’t try to track your progress. Becoming an authentic ally is not a board game, so ditch the measuring cups and digital scales. There’s nothing you are trying to “gain” or “win,” except a better sense of you, in sisterhood with others. Keep reading, learning, and most of all, listening.
- Don’t gloat, don’t lie, don’t cheat. Maybe you already have frames of reference that make it easier for you to “walk in someone else’s shoes,” so seeing your hidden bias and/or working through the trauma of the racialized and racial/racist society we live in doesn’t shock you or stop you in your tracks. If you are in this fortunate position, go easily on those who are still struggling and learning. Don’t be the gal who loses ten pounds in two weeks and invests in a bodycon wardrobe to shove it in everyone’s face. Actually, as much as I said antiracism is like dieting, it actually isn’t. (I bet you knew that!)
- No time like the present to start. Don’t start tomorrow, or next month, don’t wait until you pass any milestone, deadline, or accomplishment. if you have positional power you can wield to help other women be fully seen, empowered, paid, engaged, and supported, use it, now. The sxsterhood needs you.
Rozella Kennedy is the founder and owner of Brave Sis Project, a lifestyle brand that uses education, events, and self-work to help foster an inclusive sisterhood. To learn more about Brave Sis and what it’s doing, as well as get an awesome Brave Sis Spotify link, join the mailing list.
*Antiracism and allyship are both way stations on a journey, and not equivalent frameworks. In this article, I give preference to the “easier-lift” concept of “allyship” over the more activist, laborious — but ultimately, much more world-changing — concept of antiracist. Don’t let words get in the way of your growing wisdom.