Change that leads to better lives

Allyship – showing up for minoritised communities

Working in partnership with minoritised communities doesn’t just miraculously happen, it requires skillful building of trust and a demonstration of being an ally, before an organisation will feel that they can invest time in working together with you in equal partnership.

Jacqui Jobson photo 2 mono 002

People in the public and voluntary sector often say to me that they have tried very hard to engage with “Black and Minority Ethnic or BAME” communities, with self -organised disabled people groups and with various LGBTQ+ groups, but that it is so difficult to build up relationships and they want to know what they are doing wrong. My answer is usually not why not? But why would they?

In this blog I am using the term “minoritised communities” to describe groups of people who are defined as “minorities’ by a larger dominant group: there is a power relationship that involves making the smaller group feel that they are somehow “other” and therefore “less”. Examples of minoritised groups are Black People, Women, Lesbian, Gay, Bi and /or Trans or Gender Diverse people, Disabled people, Deaf people, Autistic People, Mental Health Survivors, Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Young and Older people. The othering and resulting discrimination is often historical, structural, institutional oppression and isn’t necessarily just down to one person’s prejudice or bigotry.

Communities will have a long string of evidence of how mainstream organisations and services have let them down, actively worked against them and are not to be trusted. This includes the police and the legal system, education, housing and health and social care. Organisations have justified reasons to feel wary of mainstream charitable organisations. We have a duty to make sure that this structural discrimination is not mirrored in our work and that we are part of the solution, not the problem, in bringing people together to take positive action in a fair and transparent way.

Minoritised community groups in the voluntary sector have told me that they often have a flurry of approaches from mainstream voluntary sector organisations when a funding stream opens up with a requirement to work in partnership. Charities that they have never heard of or worked with before, come out of the woodwork with a bright and breezy approach of “We would love to work with you - come join us on this project, we will be able to pay you (usually this is a tiny proportion of the total funding application and not a fair rate for the work involved). This work is not rooted in community needs and will be rushed at best and often it will miss the mark or duplicate work that is already happening within the community.

We, as advocacy organisations, can do better than this!

I don’t have all the answers and I’m just offering up some of my experiences of how to create allyship with minoritised groups.

An ‘ally’ is someone who has privilege but chooses to stand for and with marginalised communities by taking tangible, ongoing actions to dismantle systems of oppression. Isn’t this the core of what independent advocacy should be about?

The first action is to learn about your own privileges, accepting them and not taking things personally. This is not about you, your feelings or your opinions, it is about actively listening to the experiences of others. Sometimes this causes discomfort - stay with this and learn when things get difficult, minoritised people do not have the luxury of running away when things get tough. If you make a mistake (which we all can do), listen, apologise and change your behaviour going forward.

Work within your organisation to address structural oppression and anti-discrimination. Advocacy organisations have a head start in that we were set up to tackle injustice, but there is still much more to be done to make our services culturally competent and accessible.

Work to be inclusive in your communications and your space. Improve your recruitment and other policies to get rid of unconscious bias. Monitor your services and address any gaps where you are not currently meeting the needs of those who are most discriminated against within the groups[GP1] of people you support. Create inclusive support mechanisms for your staff who belong to discriminated groups.

The next priority is to learn about your local communities of interest. Do your own research. Find someone who has experience of working within the community and learn from them, checking in that your understanding is up to date. Minoritised groups do not have the time and energy to teach you about their culture and basic awareness of the issues from their perspective goes some way to begin to develop trust. Learn about multi layered discrimination, sometimes called intersectionality, and how this affects people marginalised within communities.

Of course not all communities are the same, so make sure that you have the time to spend and really listen to find out what their struggles are, what priorities they want to address and what their urgent needs are, even if these don’t match up with your expectations. Ask how you can help?

Then show up for your local organisations, and I don’t mean turn up at their door! I do mean get involved in campaigns that tackle all forms of social injustice[GP2] , join twitter and other social media campaigns and demonstrate that you mean business when you want to work with communities in an equal way. Attend workshops, conferences, network meetings and AGM’s, show your support.

Amplify voices, back local community voices in meetings with those in power. Actively challenge discrimination, silence allows oppression to continue.

Offer resources if you can, a meeting room, some fundraising expertise, places at a training event, a team volunteer day. Offer this freely without expectation that an organisation will want to partner with you just because you feel you have invested some time in them. Do it because it is the right thing to do. Also, expect that community organisations have a lot to offer you and that developing an equal relationship is the end goal where everyone is valued and respected for the work they do.

Stay engaged, being an ally is an ongoing process.

I can hear you sigh, yes this takes time and you want to just DO something now, but by demonstrating that you are an ally right now, you are opening up the possibilities for developing truly solid partnerships based on mutual respect in the future.

Good luck!

I offer this as the beginning of a discussion and look forward to hearing about others’ ideas and positive practice around engaging with minoritised communities.

Jacqui was a Director of Advocacy for over 15 years having previously worked in the health and social care charity sector for over 30 years. She is a qualified coach and an Independent Mental Health Advocate. She joined NDTi as an Associate in Spring 2020.

She has a specific interest in health and social care inequalities having developed specialist Independent Advocacy services for BAME and LGBTQ+ communities. Jacqui is a Churchill Fellow and travelled to Australia and Canada to bring back best practice around LGBTQ+ cultural competency. She is chair of a small charity called Rainbow Home, which supports LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in the North East. You can contact Jacqui about her consultancy work on jacquijobsonconsultancy@gmail.com or on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacqui-jobson-frsa-38a88736/

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