Want to be an ally? Expert shares how to begin fighting for equity, social justice

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Want to be an ally? ABC7 News Anchor Kumasi Aaron spoke with Attorney, Activist and Social Justice Consultant Tamika Butler about how she advises individuals and organizations to be allies in the fight for equity and social justice.

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Butler says first, people have to understand that being an ally is a journey and everyone is on their own aspect of it. Butler says there are three stages she tells people to think about.

"There's the actor stage," Bulter explains. "You're not sure what to do, but you just do it, right? 'I don't really understand this pronoun thing.' But you know, Tamika tells me it's really important. And so I care about them, and I'm going to do it."

Butler advises people to fake it until you make it. Then, try to move forward beyond that to being an ally.

"The reality is if you're just faking it till you make it, and if you're not truly in integrating and why you're doing certain things, why it's important, why it matters, then you're going to be caught, you're going to be found out, right?" Butler explains. "And it's going to be clear to somebody at some point that you're just faking it.

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Butler says when you reach the point of being an ally, you are willing to put yourself out there at personal risk.

"So maybe you're in a meeting, and one of your colleagues says something. And so you should send an email afterwards and say, 'Hey, I just want you to know, I really appreciate that. Thanks for doing that. I support you.'"

Butler says small things like that are important, but says she also tells people we are in an urgent place right now.

"The world is literally on fire," Butler says. "And we've seen that and for many folks of color for many indigenous folks or many queer folks, folks with visibility, it's been this way for us always. But now that folks who haven't historically been oppressed, and you know, frankly, white people are coming to the party, they have to realize the urgency."

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Butler says from there you can try to move from being an ally to being an accomplice.

"When you're an accomplice, you're actually saying, 'I'm willing to risk something, I'm willing to give up some of my power. I'm not just going to send an email to meet that after the meeting. In the meeting, where it might change how people think about me again, I'm willing to risk something, I'm going to raise my hand and say, I totally agree with it too, because she's right. In fact, I may speak before my black colleague has to speak.' And so that's the difference between being an ally and accomplice."

Butler says sometimes people might feel like racism or oppression are overwhelming, and she tells them to start with a simple exercise: "Start, Stop, Do More Of."

"You just get up, have a piece of paper and you just say on a personal level, 'What are the things I want to stop doing? What are the things I want to start doing? And what are the things I want to do more of?'"

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Butler suggests setting calendar reminders for yourself in the next three months, and determine where you want to be on each of those things the next six months, the next year, and you really hold yourself accountable for that personal growth.

Butler says the last thing is realizing it's not a destination we're trying to get to.

"Sometimes you feel like you're being an accomplice and you're doing it really well. And then you're in a situation where you say or do something, and someone who cares about you and is coming to you empathetically is like, 'Yo, that was not okay, that was racist, that was inappropriate.' And instead of getting defensive and saying, 'But I've progressed on my journey, I'm an accomplice.'"

Butler says it's important to realize that its fluid. Some days you're an accomplice, and some days you're an ally and some days you're just faking it till you make it. She says it's not just some days on some issues.

"Maybe you're really good with disability issues, but maybe you're horrible on transgender issues. Maybe you're at different places. And all you have to do is make sure that every single day you're moving forward."

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Butler says when you do make a mistake, do not get defensive or blame other people, but instead acknowledge that this is hard, mistakes will be made, and keep moving forward.

"Realize that you have a role to play and making things different," Butler says. "And so when people step back and say, 'Well, I'm not racist, it's just the system or this thing,' we have to realize that in order to change the systems in order to change the policies, these systems and policies are made by people, people in the systems, people making the policies, people in elected offices, people working for agencies and departments, people make up these inequitable systems."

Butler says we individually have to figure out what we are doing to do, incorporate in our lives and change, especially people who have not been part of oppressed groups.

"We need people who are white, who have historically held power, and that's really what it's about. We have to really examine and question, power and privilege. And realize just because we haven't had to think about something before, doesn't mean it wasn't a problem, it means we have the privilege to not have to be woke all the time. But if you have the privilege to be able to take naps every now and then help those of us who don't ever get to sleep, I always have to be thinking about these issues because of the blackbody that I inhabit. And so what folks who really want to see the systematic change have to realize is that these individuals have a role to play and they can do something."
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