There seems to be a lot of confusion, primarily by people who call themselves allies, about what it means to be an ally to minority groups. It comes up a lot in the Atheist/Skeptic community though (as some people like to consider all Atheists allied, which is not something I could agree with sadly), so I figure it’s probably rather relevant here.
Of course, nobody seems to be able to come to a consensus on what makes an ally an ally. Being one person, I can’t speak for everyone about what makes someone an ally. I can say what makes me consider you an ally though, and what I would consider reasonable requirements for being one.
First and foremost, the one requirement that is usually brought up in argument: You can not determine yourself to be an ally. Whether or not you are an ally depends on whether or not the people you are allied to think you are one. For some reason, people seem to have trouble with this. The typical situation is that one person (usually someone who doesn’t face discrimination themselves, might I add) declares themselves an ally to a minority group. The person then goes on to say something, do something, or otherwise find some way to utterly insult that particular minority group. The “ally” then claims that they are one the same side as the minority group, as if that protects them from any critique. Said minority group proceeds to tear said “ally” a new asshole, usually. As a rule of thumb, when you’re having to go “nuh uh, I’m on your guys’ side!” to someone, you probably aren’t actually on their side.
Remember, you are an ally to them, not the other way around. You work for them and aid them. Saying that you were an ally all along is about as stupid as blatantly slacking off at work and then getting indignant when your boss confronts you over it. Because you’re a worker, duh, how dare he assume that you weren’t working when your title clearly says that you work!
The second requirement that I want to bring up should be obvious: You have to actually keep the best interests of the group you’re allied to at heart. If you realize that you’ve done something that hurt the group you’re trying to help, that should make you feel bad. You should be compelled to apologize, to try to make things right. If your first reaction is to become angry that they had the gall to stop praising you for your selfless alliance to them, then you never had a goddamned selfless alliance to them. It is okay to be hurt to think that you insulted someone that you try to help, but it is not okay to hurt them back. Doing that means that you don’t actually care how they feel, only how righteous and kind-hearted they make you feel when they praise you. Getting pissy at them not praising you, though, is kinda like me stepping on my dog’s paw, feeling bad when he yelps, and then kicking him across the room because how dare he acknowledge that I hurt him.
This leads into the third requirement which is very often overlooked, I believe: You must be selflessly invested in helping the group you’re allied to. You have to actually realize that being an ally to someone is not just some way to gain an infinite number of brownie points. It’s not a two way deal, really. All you get out of being an ally is the feeling that you’re helping people who need it. You don’t get a free pass for being a jerk to them, or some sort of protection against any form of critique. You don’t get anything. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, you’re not an ally. You’re a leech.
The fourth requirement, with which I move straight from “obvious” to “seriously, this should never be news ever” is this: You can’t actively hurt the group you’re allied to. That should be brain-meltingly obvious, but it seems to be overlooked.
Imagine that instead of defending your group from bias and hatred, you’re actually battling with them in a war or something. Now, you should be shooting at their enemies. This is what it means to be on the same side.
For some reason, though, some people with a so-called alliance to one side of a battle take a liking to gunning down that side’s own god damned troops. If the battles of equality and prejudice were a physical war, nobody would have a problem with people calling the guy who makes a hobby out of friendly fire a traitor. But since there isn’t a battlefield, people don’t seem to see the similarity between shooting at your own troops, and actively making homophobic comments when being allied to LGBT people, or saying something misogynistic when claiming to be a feminist, or racist when claiming to be against racism, etc. ad infinitum.
There is a similarity though, and just like you should take the gun away from someone who shoots at people they call their friends, so should we take the title of “ally” away from someone who uses it in this way.
Now, this is all my own opinion of what constitutes an ally. That said, I would consider these four requirements relatively uncontroversial (except to people who wouldn’t be an ally by this list- I’m sure they’ll be furious) and pretty basic guidelines for how to not be a shit ally. If you really want to try to be an ally to some person or group and not be called a fraud, this list would probably be good to keep in mind.