“Ally” is a word that you might be hearing a lot right now – in the news, in political conversations, in schools, and amongst friends. Many people proudly claim to be one. Some might like to be one, but aren’t sure where to begin.
So, what does it mean to be an ally?
An ally is someone who is not part of marginalized group, but gives support to that group by listening, striving to understand, actively fighting oppressive systems, and centering and amplifying the voices and experiences from that group.
In my reading about allyship, and in trying to practice it in my life, I’ve come to realize that one of the hardest things for the more privileged person (the ally) to deal with is the possibility of making mistakes. Fear of making mistakes is a hurdle to allyship, because no one wants to make a mistake that might hurt someone else. Mistakes are inevitable; it’s helpful to realize that, and to have a plan for dealing with them.
George author Alex Gino talks about making such mistakes in an interview with Scholastic about their new book You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P! and becoming an ally. Mx. Gino acknowledges that making mistakes might make a person feel guilty, defensive, and uncomfortable. But, they say, if someone has to be uncomfortable so that someone from a marginalized group can be more safe, it is the more privileged person’s obligation to do that. Mx. Gino advises people to recognize the difference between intention and impact, and if something that they said or did impacted someone negatively, it merits an apology, not excuses about intention. Another important tip that Mx. Gino shares in the interview is to process the experience, including any guilt a person feels, with someone else who shares their privilege, rather than with the person from the marginalized group. (Check the online resources below for the entire interview.)
About this Month’s Selections
Not a member yet? Sign up for our Girl & Grown-up Book Club. It’s FREE! Get toolkits with meeting guides and discussion questions for all previous years delivered right to your inbox, instantly. Toolkits for this year’s books will be emailed each month.
In the stories that we’ll be reading this month, characters struggle to understand, connect with, and support people from marginalized groups. In Drita, My Homegirl, Maxie can’t imagine finding any common ground with a girl from a war-torn country who doesn’t even speak English. Meanwhile, in George and The Moon Within, characters strive to understand the experience of a dear friend or relative whose gender identity is in transition.
As you read, it’s worth thinking about what makes a person or a character an ally? What differentiates allyship from friendship or familial love? If you have higher privilege than someone you’re friends with or related to, you have the opportunity to be an ally to that person. But, you certainly don’t have to know someone well – or at all – to be an ally to a marginalized group or individual.
It’s also great to notice what characters do when they make a mistake. A person doesn’t need to stop being an ally when they make a mistake. Notice how characters in these stories deal with their mistakes and missteps.
If you’re interested in learning more about allyship, one first step is to listen to the stories of people from marginalized groups, and people whose life experiences are different from your own. This month’s book club titles are a place to start. You might consider the rest of the information you consume, from news programs to print media to movies and TV shows. Do you tend to consume information and stories that feel directly relevant to your personal experiences? Could you broaden your exposure to stories that are different from your life?
Here are a few resources about allyship to start you off!
- Guide to Allyship
- “So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things Allies Need to Know” at everydayfeminism.com
- Alex Gino’s interview with Scholastic Becoming an Ally: A Conversation with Alex Gino
Drita, My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard
About the book
Ten-year-old Drita has just emigrated from Kosovo with her family, only to find that life in America brings unexpected challenges. Her classmates, including Maxie, don’t want much to do with her. When Maxie and Drita are paired for a school project, they have to find ways to bridge the communication gap, and possibly even begin to understand each other. But how much can two people have in common when they’re from two completely different worlds? This story is told in chapters that alternate between Drita’s and Maxie’s perspectives.
Published in 2006, Drita, My Homegirl is on twelve state reading lists.
About the author
Jenny Lombard is a writer and a teacher in New York City public schools. Drita, My Homegirl is her first novel. She says her students, who come from many different ethnic backgrounds, inspired her to write this story. Learn more about Ms. Lombard and her work at her website.
George by Alex Gino
About the book
Melissa loves dressing up and acting. She longs to play Charlotte in her class’ production of Charlotte’s Web. Her teacher won’t let her try out for the role, though, because her teacher – like everyone else in Melissa’s life – looks at Melissa and sees a boy. Melissa knows she’s really a girl and, with the help of her best friend, she figures out a way that she can be who she is – both onstage and off.
When it was published in 2015, George received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist. It won several awards including the Lambda Literary Award, the ALA’s Stonewall Book Award for Children, and the Children’s Choice Book Awards Debut Author Award.
About the author
Alex Gino lives in Oakland, California. They wrote George to fill a gap they saw in children’s literature, where there were almost no stories featuring transgender kids as main characters. Since writing George, they have published one more middle grade novel, You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! and they have another scheduled for publication in early 2020.
The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
About the book
As the time for Celi’s first period approaches, her mother can’t stop talking about having a moon ceremony to celebrate. Celi finds the idea of celebrating her period terribly embarrassing, and begs her mom to drop the whole thing. As Celi is trying to figure out what becoming a young woman means to her, she’s also experiencing her first big crush and trying to do be a supportive friend to her best friend Marco who is dealing with his own identity questions.
This novel-in-verse is set in Oakland, and was published just this year to starred reviews in Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Bookpage.
About the author
Aida Salazar lives in Oakland with her family. The Moon Within is her first novel. She has another verse novel, The Land of the Cranes, scheduled for release in the fall of 2020, and a non-fiction picture book slated for publication the year after that.
Disclosure: the links to buy or download books may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost, and Girls Leadership may get a commission if you click through and purchase.