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‘Standing in the gap’: One part of allyship that gets overlooked

LinkedIn’s senior global program manager of diversity, inclusion, and belonging says, “Standing in the gap means to speak up and speak out, particularly into the spaces where I/we cannot reach. Moreover, it’s a commitment to sticking with it over time.”

‘Standing in the gap’: One part of allyship that gets overlooked
[Photo: LUuy/Pixabay]

After a hellish week of grappling with the emotional trauma of more senseless murders of black men and women, I’ve finally mustered up enough energy to speak my truth.

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I’m TIRED. And here’s why:

I’m tired of swallowing my pain so that I can put on a happy face for my baby boys who are growing up in a society where they will be perceived as a threat the minute they transition into young black men.

I’m tired of suppressing my rage—my righteous rage. While I choose this approach for the purpose of changing hearts and minds through dialogue, this work is emotionally draining.

I’m tired of trying to persuade. It sometimes feels hopeless to see that we still need to convince others that racism STILL exists and that black people are dying because of it.

To the many people for whom this is not your reality yet who also care about justice and want to do something, there are so many ways to show up as an ally in these times, and there are a ton of resources to help guide your way. I have been so very appreciative of all the allies I have in both my professional and personal life. And yet, I’d be remiss to not share the one email from an ally/friend that hit me in a different way today.

“I am saddened and pained by the racism that I have seen in our country over the last month and years. I am so sorry that this continues and continues and continues and there never is justice or real change. It is awful. Please know that I stand with you and others in this awful time. I understand my responsibility to denounce racism. I am speaking directly and bluntly with my extended family and I wrote an email to my peers/leadership at work. I love you guys!”

Words don’t always help, but this email helped a little. Why? Because I knew that I was not fighting alone. And let’s be clear: The friendship I have with this individual is strong enough that I know these are not just words. He didn’t even need to tell me these things, because I already knew he was doing this work and is standing in solidarity with me through action. It made me realize that there is one primary aspect of allyship that matters to me personally: Standing in the gap.

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I, as a black woman, must persist because I have no other choice. I must speak up and speak out because this is my reality. However, I know that my impact may be limited and my words may not be enough to convince others that this trauma is real. Black people cannot do this work alone. As a country, we are all so entrenched in our ideological silos, and these silos make it very difficult for those on the outside to break through the noise, open up eyes, and spur people to act. How then do we move forward? This is where I believe allies can stand in the gap.

What does standing in the gap mean to me?

Sphere of influence gap

Educate yourself and then engage in the very challenging and frustrating work of educating others. It’s exhausting. Believe me—I know. But you must persist as I must persist. We (black people) cannot and should not be expected to educate others on our own.

Be proactive in calling out injustice wherever you see it. Specifically, consider it your role to speak the truth in the rooms where black people don’t always have access, whether it’s a professional space or in your personal encounters with friends, families, or associates. If you know someone who holds problematic views, rather than giving up on them, persist and try to find ways to break through to make progress. If you don’t stand in the gap to make a change in your own personal sphere of influence, who can?

Time gap

These horrific atrocities often spark powerful moments of allyship, which is critical for progress, but these moments of allyship should not be isolated incidents. Rather, they should be a catalyst for the ongoing and persistent action you take to partner with us in this work over time.

Continue to do this work in between the newsworthy atrocities. Continue to speak up and speak out even when the examples of racism are more subtle or when this latest news cycle is forgotten. The ongoing struggle in between the big watershed moments is equally, if not more, important than the moments themselves.

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Let’s be clear, there is no silver bullet for allyship. I’m still working on my own journey of showing up as a better ally to the other marginalized communities that have experienced disproportionate impacts from the COVID-19 health crisis or to Asian communities experiencing xenophobia (and the list goes on). We all have a role to play in fighting injustice. However, this particular aspect of allyship—standing in the gap—is what resonates most with me at this moment.

In summary, standing in the gap means to speak up and speak out, particularly into the spaces where I/we cannot reach. Moreover, it’s a commitment to sticking with it over time. Will it be easy? No. Will it always be effective? Probably not.

Nevertheless, you must persist, even with the knowledge that you may stumble or run into a brick wall. Learn, evolve, and push forward. As an ally, you have committed to partnering with me in this exhausting work—and it matters.


Marilyn Addy is senior global program manager for diversity, inclusion, and belonging at LinkedIn.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and is reprinted with permission.

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