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Defining allyship

Two people work together in front of a colorful wall. Origami bird hang from the ceiling.

In the article discussed in the previous step Wendy Ng, Syrus Marcus Ware and Alyssa Greenberg define allyship as:

“a way of working together, across multiple identities, to create work environments, programming, and exhibition content that embraces all humanity, specifically racialized and marginalized peoples, from a social justice lens. […] Our definition of allyship considers both audience-facing museum work – curation, education, programming – and internal museum work including working conditions and hiring. Both external and internal factors matter when orienting museum work toward social justice. Our definition of allyship also centers the experience of racialized and marginalized people to interrupt the traditional museum status quo that privileges white, elite perspectives. Finally, our definition is based on a collective, rather than individual, approach to working toward social justice. Words have power so in proceeding with this definition, we acknowledge that definitions are impermanent and are a reflection of their time; we recognize the term ‘ally’ is contested, with alternative terms such as ‘accomplice’ proposed.”

They choose to consider the term allyship as a lived practice rather than an identity. In this way allyship becomes an active verb and not a noun.

In this article, they also share the series of guiding principles for allyship that they developed through their work within a social justice framework. The following principles are based on a literature review and their professional work experiences:

  • An ally understands it is not about themselves.
  • An ally practices active listening and self-reflection.
  • An ally is always learning.
  • Allyship is a conscious and constant practice.
  • Allies need to be able to take direction well.

They conclude their article by stressing that there is a movement pushing for a new way of “doing” museum work. One that is more critical of the institution’s relationship with historically marginalized communities and recognizes the power dynamics that maintain white supremacy. They also make a call for a strong team of allies that can be a support during change-making. A group of allies who will help set the museum in a direction informed by racialized and marginalized voices that will establish a new way of working together that is supportive, rooted in social justice, care, and consideration.

In the comments section, please tell us of two ways in which you (personally) can be an ally (think of allyship as a verb and not as noun).

This article is from the free online

Creating Meaningful and Inclusive Museum Practices

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