Being a good ally


This is my starting point for a rough guide.  It’s not the end, and I’d very much appreciate feedback in comments on how to make it better.  I still have a lot to learn.


Why should I be a good ally?
Because Solidarity.

Because Intersectionality.

Because ultimately aren’t we, you and I and lots of other people, in politics to make things better, not worse? We may all disagree about the things, and the better, and the worse, but when we are largely in agreement on those wouldn’t it be a good idea to be nice to other people who are trying to go on the same journey as you, and not just when it is convenient?

Being a good ally is bread-and-butter politics.  Hell, it’s bread-and-butter being a good human being.


How to be a good ally – some suggestions

TDB Recommends

1. Stop making jokes that are based on making fun of people with less power.

Non-exhaustive list of types of jokes that really aren’t funny for the subjects or allies: rape jokes, racist jokes, wheelchair jokes, Irish jokes, ginga jokes, “so gay” jokes.  There are heaps of excellent posts out there on this, and Google is your friend.

Taking a small step: Stop making such jokes on the internet in front of strangers (eg in blogs, on twitter). You’ll find you make new friends as a result.


2.  When someone you respect, even just a little, tells you to check your privilege you should listen.

They may not actually say “check your privilege”.  They may say “hey that was uncool,” or “I don’t think that’s helping”, or “not funny dude,”  or “FFS.” If you are face to face then body language is a good clue.

I’m constantly having to do this because in a lot of ways I have privilege (which I struggle to spell correctly) coming out the wahzoo, and most of the time there’s something for me to learn when someone tells me to check it.  Personal growth is A Good Thing.

Taking a small step:  Resist instantly being defensive if someone criticises your action/opinion/blog post.  There may be something to gain from a measured consideration of what they have said.  Take some time.


3.  Respect the integrity of other people’s information and the stories they have shared; their lived experience is not yours.

Please don’t tell people that their actual life experiences, things that happened to them are not true.  We saw this with Paula Bennett recently, who immediately went to the Not True place when stories circulated of beneficiaries being denied tampons.

It is entirely possible for someone’s life experience to be true, searingly bleakly true, whilst not indicative of the norm.  If anything it’s those stories that are the exception that often need to be listened to more carefully, because often those are the experiences of the least powerful, and so rarely heard.  We quash them to the detriment of all.

Taking a small step:  Assume there is at least a grain of truth in every life experience you read or hear.  Being open-hearted about this stuff can mean you learn amazing things.


4.  Multi-tasking is A Thing.

I don’t know how many times I have had to say this; we, as a left-wing movement, can do more than one thing at once, do more than one campaign at a time, put forward policy on more than one issue.

This means that when those pesky feminists put forward their wacky ideas about how people should be able to determine whether or not they continue to have an embryo or fetus in their uterus that’s ok because we can do more than one thing at a time and obviously that’s important to them and I do agree with their point and oh gosh why was this a threat again, I can’t remember, yay go pro-choice!

Being a good ally means supporting your peeps.  It may not be an important cause to you right now, but don’t shit on your friend’s doorstep by publicly telling them off on the interwebs.  Not least because the other side like to seize on any of that stuff and use it to further feed the myth that the left is full of splitters and wreckers.  Most of the time most of us aren’t, so let’s show a bit of solidarity, and not just on abortion by the way, that is but one example, and here’s another.

Winning marriage equality was not a distraction, it was really really important to a whole lot of people and it spoke to key values of justice and fairness and equality that are at the heart of the left-wingedness of many.   And while many of us worked on that we also beavered away on the paid parental leave campaign, fighting the attack on workers’ rest breaks, exposing the cruel and petty approach to beneficiaries this government is encouraging.  We can haz multitasking.  

Taking a small step:  Keep your moaning about the inconvenient views of your allies to a much more private forum than a blog or twitter.  And if you are going to share the views of someone who you should be allying with make damn sure they said them in public (and no, a private Facebook status doesn’t count) before you put them under the microscope for it.  We all mouth off at the pub/staffroom/dinner table.  But we don’t need to put it out there, for the world to see, in a way that undermines allies.


5.  Be generous, and ask questions instead of reacting.  

I thought about calling this one “It isn’t all about you.”  When you don’t get something, when you find yourself reacting with anger particularly to something an ally has said, first up ask some questions.  Why do they think that?  Why did that happen?  What was the reason for saying/doing that?  Get a bit of conversation and understanding going on.  Seek clarification: “Are you saying that it’s ok to wear whatever you want?”  (the answer to this is YES btw).

The ally may get annoyed at you for asking, because they may be sick of having to explain this stuff, but someone else might pick up the mantle and help you out.  Then you can assess with more information and avoid the “oh sorry I didn’t know that” stuff that comes when we deny allies the benefit of the doubt first up.

Taking a small step:  Learn when you are reacting with anger and start to notice it before you say anything.  This is a great tool to have for all sorts of reasons and situations, not least avoiding blurting out your ignorant disagreement with someone you should and could be acting in solidarity with.


Alright, that’s my starter.  Please add your ingredients to my Good Ally Friendship Solidarity Cake 🙂


  1. Wise words.

    With regard to: “We saw this with Paula Bennett recently, who immediately went to the Not True place when stories circulated of beneficiaries being denied tampons.”

    Hmmm, I hadn’t caught this one. I’ve talked to a WINZ worker personally who had to deny someone money for tampons, because they don’t come under the stipulations of the food grant. She gave her a few of her own instead.

  2. thanx for this post julie. really appreciate it.

    another point: as an ally, don’t drown out the voices of the marginalised people you are trying to support. help their voice get wider reach. stand a little behind them to show your strong solidarity towards their cause, but let them be the champions of it.

  3. My addition….probably leads on thematically from your ‘benefit of the doubt’

    6. Consider that people you are normally fully aligned with can have moments of dumb, and that’s fine because you probably do as well.

    I have real dumb moments. All the time. Recently I posted briefly and positively on a supposed pro-feminist piece re-posted by a friend that I had only speed-read, and got called on it.

    When I looked again I saw I had been real dumb, missing a whole slew of problems in the article making it most definitely not the feminist piece I had suggested.

    And yet I think I am generally nice, sometime intelligent, and (hopefully) mostly not sexist. As I think many of my acquaintances try, with varying degrees of success, to be.

    I bet that I am not the only one to whom this happens. The point being – your friends and allies will have moments of dumb. And you are free to call them on it – but just consider the possibility that you are almost certain to be dumb yourself sometime soon.

    Consider this: Instead of attacking like your friend or ally has deliberately violated your understanding of them, or a position you hold dear, and instead consider whether they are just having an ‘oh so human’ attack of ‘the dumbs’.

    Consider asking gently, possibly even privately, “Hey. Interesting thing you said there/did there. Are you aware what it implies?” and see what they might say.

    Their answer might be “Oh, that was dumb”. They might be better for having that discussion with you. And if you can help people be better, instead of satisfying the less salubrious desire in some of us to intellectually savage someone publically, that means that you also will not be dumb.

    PS. the person who called me on my dumb did so very nicely for which I thank her.

    • @Ewan
      >> And if you can help people be better, instead of satisfying the less salubrious desire in some of us to intellectually savage someone publically, that means that you also will not be dumb. <<

      Thanks so much for saying this. I have been spending *far* too much time on the internet, and being this kind of dumb with embarrassing frequency. Apologies to anyone who has been the subject of my attacks of dumb, and thanks for cutting me a break.Kia manawanui. Arohanui ki a tātou katoa.

    • Yeah – I thought about that, but decided dumb and stupid in a NZ context have a slightly different ‘feel’ to each other.

      Stupid some how feels harsher, which didn’t seem to gel with the feel of the post I wanted to write.

      But maybe I am just being err….stupid 😉

  4. Why did this post make me want to buy a gun then go and live in a jungle to make nail bombs to sell to children ???

    As far away from hugs and kittens and blue ribbons and marsh mellows with hot chocolate and pastel cardigans and sensible shoes as I can get . I feel as if I’ve been force fed prozac like a French table goose gets force fed grain . I now feel like being dirty and mangy and swearing at somebody for doing a good deed ??? What just happened ???

    • Spookily enough my grandfather was a big fan of the Desiderata as a guide for life and I have a copy with a picture of him that my mum got done up for each of the grandchildren after he died. It is often hard to go placidly amid the noise and haste! 😉

  5. Hey Julie – thanks for this post. My own activity recently has had me thinking a lot about this issue of allies. For me, the best part of campaigning for good causes is the friends and allies you make and, for me, hope to keep. It is so important to build these relationships, so our voices can get bigger, louder, so the word spreads. We also need people we can work with and trust in the future. A really amazing example of this for me was the Campaign for MMP. I feel so lucky to have worked on that campaign. Going into it, as a Labour Party member, I knew heaps of Labour people and I knew some other lefties in Wellington. Coming out, I knew left leaning people all over the country (party politically aligned and not) and a fair few centre and right wing people that I would usually never encounter who were in it because they’re into fairness (a very kiwi thing, I think). Since that campaign, I’ve been able to ring those people into other stuff I’m doing. If we want to win on issues, the allies you make can help you regardless of where they are on the political spectrum or which party they vote for.

    So it brings me to this: sometimes in politics, you’re going to find yourself on the other side of the debate from your allies. We need to try to be comfortable with this. It is really hard. We need to try to remember that they are still your ally. I’m not talking about blind loyalty here – just that if we do disagree, that we remember they’re still your ally. Next time you’re doing a thing, they may be on the same side as you, and you can still work together. To get to that point, we might have to have a hard conversation (many of us don’t like these conversations). We might need to call each other on the things that were said in the heat of the campaign. If we follow Julie’s other tips above, we can get there. It’s really important to remember in the heat of the campaign, that we ARE allies (and sometimes friends and whanau) and when the shouting’s over, we will still need to rely on each other. We kinda need to keep the kindness for our allies in our hearts even when we’re disagreeing. It’s not always easy, but I think it’s a must.

    Thanks again for always being so thoughtful, Julie and to others for their thoughts on here.

  6. Totally yes to everything, especially no 4. When people were all ‘we shouldn’t be doing anything for marriage equality because there are children living in poverty’ I kept thinking ‘well, gee, it’s great that we’ve nearly solved that problem, then, since apparently we’re not allowed to care about anything else until that’s done’.

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