Does Allyship Matter in Non-Diverse Communities?

Did you know that you can practice allyship skills even if you don’t live in a “diverse community”?

Ask me how I know!

It’s a myth that one has to live in a diverse community in order to learn about, value, or practice allyship.

I am real-life proof . I grew up in the middle of rural nowhere, Idaho, where there was nearly zero (which is not the same as zero, but more on that later) diversity and here I am living my best life, cheering people along their allyship journeys non-stop.

Fun fact that I recently confessed to a close friend, who then proceeded to laugh so hard she struggled to catch her breath: I lived in rural Idaho long enough to truthfully say, “I used to rodeo.”

I didn’t love it, I wasn’t great at it, and it was kid rodeo; but if you asked me if I have ever raced on a horse down to the end of a corral, only to jump off said horse and tie a ribbon around a goat’s tail…I would have to answer in the affirmative.

In this post you’ll learn why it’s important to become a better ally no matter how diverse your community is (or isn’t) and how to use your everyday experiences to practice your allyship skills regularly.

Before we get off to the races (I promise I’ll stop with the horse analogies now) I want to properly welcome anyone new to this space. I’m Jamie K. Corbin and I’ve been navigating needing an ally and becoming an ally my entire life. 

If you have questions about allyship basics, I have a free allyship journey starter kit available for you to download—it’s packed full of beautiful goodies to help you get started, so don’t miss it!

Allyship matters, even in spaces that could be considered “non-diverse”.

One common barrier that holds many potential allies back from going all in on their allyship journey is that they are not entirely sure that their allyship voice is needed, or would even be valued or listened to in their communities, because it lacks diversity.

There are two unfortunate consequences that come about with this limiting belief.

One is that the definition of diversity is kept narrow and small; which is a tactic used by those who despise diversity to ensure the status quo stays around as long as it possibly can.

The other unfortunate consequence is that a lot of could-be-amazing-allies are walking around without realizing they are holding onto it,  and therefore unintentionally creating all sorts of drag on their allyship journeys.

Allow me to illustrate with a fairly recent experience from the “needing an ally” part of my life.

Days before everything shut down due to COVID, I was blessed to be on a phenomenal women’s ministry team helping to host the IF Gathering at our church. 

If you don’t know (see what I did there?), the IF Gathering is a leadership summit that broadcasts talented writers, pastors, and speakers to equip women to be a force of gospel-inspired discipleship and change in their communities.

One of the topics set to be discussed in 2020 was racial reconciliation within the church.

Our family had been struggling for several years with the way the topic of race was being handled (or not) in our church community and I was eager to finally see it being brought up.

So, I was hurt and frustrated when another member of the team reached out to see if I thought it was necessary or valuable to spend the time on that topic, considering the lack of diversity in our area.

Now, this person wasn’t saying that she and the rest of the team didn’t think it was a worthy topic, but she did make it clear that the team had doubts about whether or not a conversation regaurding racial reconciliation would go over well or would be seen as helpful by the women attending the conference, given that the majority of those attending lived in Meridian, Idaho.

We had a conversation, we prayed, and eventually we decided we were going to keep it on our program. 

The last way I served my church before we unexpectedly left later that summer, ironically over issues regarding racial reconciliation, was by standing on stage, microphone in hand, and praying after the session was streamed. 

I prayed God would soften our hearts to the ideals of reconciliation and for him to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to the pain felt by those in our community who were racially diverse and very much isolated in the predominantly white community we lived in.

Before we move on, a friendly reminder that racial diversity is not the only kind of diversity, and that allyship extends beyond racial lines and into all sorts of spaces where disrimantion and bias need to be torn down.

Predominantly white does not mean entirely white.

Predominantly white communities are not entirely white white communities. 

When allies get confused about this point it harms the people of color who live in predominantly white communities.

I have had a discouraging amount of conversations about race with people in Idaho who think racism is non-existent in their communities, as if a certain number of people of color would need to be present in order to prove its existence.

I have had nearly identical conversations with people who honestly believe that the police cannot discriminate based on race because there aren’t enough non-white people for that to be a possibility.

I’ve also had these conversations with people who say they want to be a part of the solution but just don’t see any opportunities or tangible ways they can help.

These people are misinformed about what it means to live in a predominantly, but not entirely, white community.

Living in a predominantly white community means that people of color are easily overlooked, ignored, under-valued, isolated and perhaps most painfully, gas-lighted by people they know and love. 

They are burdened with being the voice of representation for an entire people group, the voice of explanation to indulge the curiosity of others, and if you can believe it, some communities have the audacity to expect them to be the voice of grace, forgiveness, and acceptance of racialized abuse.

Their concerns are often written off as over-dramatic or outside the norm, which is convenient since by default there isn’t a “normal” experience for people of color to be referenced in a predominantly white community. 

They are constantly accused of “taking things the wrong way” or “bringing race into everything”, as if there is a right way to “take” racially insensitive comments or as if they should simply choose the impossible scenario of leaving the color of their skin at home rather than taking it into the community with them.

They are easy to bully on the playground and easily erased in the classroom.

There are predominantly white communities where people of color are acknowledged, but they are easily seen through the lens of pity or needing rescuing, rather than a lens of dignity and recognition of what could be learned from them regarding resilience, leadership, and loving one’s neighbor even when they are oblivious to the sin of racial discrimination spilling over from their own homes into shared public spaces.

I can personally attest to the fact that allyship is needed equally in both diverse and non-diverse spaces.

This truth really sank into my heart and bones as we drove through our new neighborhood for the first time. 

Our local community is predominantly white, although there is more racial, cultural, religious, and political diversity than in Idaho. As we drove through the neighborhood and saw yard signs and flags proclaiming the ideals of freedom, diversity, and inclusion, breathing immediately felt easier. 

So how does one become a better ally if they live in a “non-diverse” area?

I’m so glad you’re asking and I’ve got a great answer for you, but first, let me just clarify—the goal here is not to practice for practice sake, it is to practice like we play. 

We use the strategies below to develop our allyship skills with the full intentions of putting them to use when an occasion to show up as an ally arises; that is always the end goal. 

We are centering allyship here, and any other personal benefits along the way are a bonus!

I go into more detail about the first three of the following steps in Becoming an Ally: A Quick Start Guide to Fight Racism, but here is a brief summary of the four steps to becoming a better ally.

Step 01: Listen

Allies approach their journeys with humility. They understand their journey only moves forward when they listen empathetically.

Step 02: Learn

Allies recognize the need to unlearn and learn continuously. They set aside time to seek out diverse voices and reflect regularly on what they are learning.

Step 03: Love

Allies take what they have learned and turn it into action. They make decisions from a place of abundant love rather than fear of scarcity.

Step 04: Look Up

Allies know they will be tempted to give up and admit defeat. They respond to overwhelm, mistakes, and discouragement with a commitment to stay engaged.

I believe in these four steps to becoming a better ally so much that I have created a FREE wallpaper to reference on your phone.

The best way to develop your allyship skills when you live in a non-diverse area is to practice at home.

I have learned almost everything I know about allyship from reading books or hard-earned personal experience, and I’ve become a better ally by applying what I’ve learned to our family life. 

Allyship skills are largely relational, and if you are involved in family life, you know that marriage and parenting are sources of endless feedback and inspiration about how you can grow relationally.

If you aren’t regularly involved in family life,  you can absolutely practice the four steps to becoming a better ally with your co-workers and your friends. 

I have learned two important truths about allyship from practicing these skills in a non-diverse community:

  1. Allyship skills are transferable. 
  2. Everyone needs an ally.

This is not to say that everyone needs the same amount of allyship, or that every cultural group needs allies in the same way. That kind of statement would fall dangerously close to the “All Lives Matter” sentiment, and that stuff makes my stomach turn. 

I am simply stating that allyship, that is, being a good human to other humans by honoring our interconnectedness, prioritizing people’s needs getting met, pursuing justice by insisting power be created and shared equitably, rejecting selfish comfort that comes at the cost of others’ opportunity for equity, and accepting our responsibility to restore love and order to a chaotic, broken world, benefits all of us. 

Additionally, I have found that when I practice the skills and strategies within listening, learning, loving, and looking up through family life, I am more easily able to transfer those skills into my advocacy and activist work as an ally.

Practice makes progress, after all.

If you have children in your life, congrats, you have been afforded an extra opportunity to practice your allyship skills.

There are few words I can offer that fully illustrate the relational challenges of parenting, but for those of you reading with kids, you have just unknowingly unlocked a bonus level of allyship practice. 

Parenting  is a whole separate journey in itself, and many other people are more qualified to write about it than yours truly, but I do have this jewel of parenting and allyship wisdom to offer you.

Kids could easily be considered a vulnerable population with very little opportunity to have their voices heard. They have very little freedom in terms of being able to advocate for themselves in a society that centers, values, and gives power to grown-ups. 

If anyone in our families could benefit from having us show up as an ally for them, it’s our kids. 

I’m going to give three examples of how I am leveraging my parenting journey to practice the skills of listening, learning, loving, and looking up in my own allyship journey, but this is absolutely a conversation I would love continuing to have with you all. 

I spend most of my time hanging out with my readers on Instagram or through my Reading, Writing, & Raising Allies newsletter—so join me in those spaces if you want to swap stories of how this is going for us as we go!

Am I really listening to my kids like they deserve?

I was tucking the girls into bed and asked Norah how she was feeling about the first day of school. 

I had assumed she was nervous, since she had been homeschooled the last couple of years and the next day would be her very first classroom experience with students other than her sisters and cousins.

She answered, “A little scared.” 

“Ah,” I told myself, “I was right.” (I love being right.)

I already finished patting myself on the back for being such an insightful parent and was opening up my mental book of parental pep talks to the quick-fix page, planning on going the “There’s nothing to worry about, things are going to  be fine, okay? Sweet dreams.” route, hoping to keep the bedtime routine right on track time-wise so I could get back to watching Picard with Kelvin downstairs. 

I know. I’ve told you guys before, but in the name of full transparency, let me be clear, I can be quite self-centered sometimes.

Ahem, often. I am often quite self-centered.

But, before I could start the short speech, she continued. “I’m scared that I’m going to miss the bus.”

Wait, what? 

Of all the things she could have been scared of after the last couple of years, with the big move, and being the obvious new kid because we live in a small town…she was scared of missing the bus?

Huh. So much for that premature pat on the back.

Thankfully, I remembered that I’m the woman who regularly writes about allyship and how passionate commitment I am about showing up as an ally for my own girls. I decided to put Picard on hold while I stayed with her to listen a little bit longer. 

She talked and I listened. 

Then I asked if I could help her find a solution to her concerns. We agreed that setting an alarm to leave for the bus would alleviate those fears and she was ready to sleep.

We can all practice listening more to the kids in our lives.

We can also learn from our kids.

One of the allyship strategies that fall under Step: 02 Learn is to make mistakes meaningful. 

Allies know that they are going to make mistakes along the way, yet they still put themselves out there, trusting that when they do make a mistake, they will use specific skills to make sure they learn from it.

Getting clear on the relationship between intentions and impact is one of the skills allies can use to make their mistakes meaningful.

I posted on Instagram last week that this fall I am finding so much joy spending Wednesday nights at the school gym watching Simone practice my favorite sport, volleyball. 

I am learning that while we are similar in some respects, Simone and I are different in a couple of important ways. I have no chill, she is calm and quiet. I can be ambitious and impulsive, she is steady and consistent. 

And, after watching the video her coach asked all the parents to watch before the first practice, I realized my extroverted enthusiasm had been unintentionally causing her extra stress in other areas of her life. 

She watched the video too, and when I asked her what she thought of it, she quietly raised her eyebrows and gave me a look. 

I asked her if she would be more comfortable if I stayed quiet and smiled at her from the bleachers instead of cheering loudly. She was quick to nod her head, saying, “Yes, please.”

I’m grateful to be learning from my mistakes now so that I can show up for her throughout her future sports endeavors supporting her in a way that makes her feel seen and valued.

Working on Step 03: Love might be my favorite way to practice allyship with our kids, probably because it feels much easier than listening or learning.

We put Maya into a preschool full time this fall. 

It’s different from what we have done with the other two girls, but we were concerned for what might happen to her mental health if she were to go from being one of six, since we spent so much time with my sisters’ girls the last few years, to one of three over the summer when we moved, to all on her own with mom and dad when her sisters went to school.

As much as Simone and I are different, Maya and I are alike. 

She is intense, and it’s been a blessing to get to parent her and see our shared intensity in a positive light. She is full of energy and passion, and she is a loyal defender of her sisters and friends. She has held her own with the big kids in her life, and has insisted on keeping pace with them. 

I have been proud of her strength, determination, and grit.

One of the strategies in Step 03: Love is taking care of one’s self in order to make the allyship journey sustainable.

It wasn’t until we conferenced with her teachers before school started that I realized I had missed opportunities to help Maya rest and take care of herself. 

I explained how Maya might struggle with the idea of a nap, although her body would benefit from one, when her teacher commented that after reading my notes about Maya, she couldn’t help but think that Maya might be exhausted from keeping up with her sisters and cousins her whole life and that the idea of being able to rest as she spent time with kids her own age might actually be appealing.

I was immediately struck by the truth in her observations and have been intentional about explicitly modeling self-care and creating opportunities for Maya to rest at home. 

Guess who loves naptime at school and has started encouraging me to rest more often?

Step 04: Looking Up, is all about staying engaged in allyship, especially when it’s challenging.

I wrote about Kelvin dream-crushing my plans for an over-full, stressed out calendar of extra-curriculars this fall, and I am grateful we have built in space and margin around our family’s schedule so we can practice allyship together.

I am working to create boundaries in my work life so I can be present and engaged with the kids when they are home. It’s an imperfect work in progress, but we are trending in a positive direction.

We are finding the best way for us to stay engaged and continue showing up as allies for our kids is to invest our time in making close observations, asking questions, taking the time to genuinely listen to what they have to say, and providing opportunities for all of us to rest and build our own self-care practices. 

Our family is learning so much about allyship as we continue to process being in a new place, and the more I unpack how we ended up here, the more convinced I am that allyship skills can and should be practiced whenever possible—and it’s possible to practice them in non-diverse communities.

Listening, learning, loving, and looking up from our own lives in order to stay engaged are skills we can apply to our relationships with our people whether they are family members, co-workers, or friends. 

Practicing these transferable allyship skills is especially powerful when we apply them to our relationships with the kids in our lives.

If you liked this post, please let me know by commenting below and sharing it with an ally you know!

Now you know exactly why you should practice allyship skills even if you’re in a non-diverse community and learned how you can do that, but what about finding the time to actually do it? I’ve got a blog post for you to read next to help you with that.

I'm Jamie and you are welcome here, friend!

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