Introverts or extroverts, we all need to wrestle with this phenomenon that I am going to call Retroactive Allyship Theater (RAT). This is a type of performative allyship when someone waits until a critical moment has passed and then tries to act like an ally, when the risks are no longer as significant. Here are a few ways it manifests, and often we don’t know we’re doing it:
- Expressing support or agreement after the fact
- Offering condolences or sympathy after the fact
- Giving praise after the fact
- Sharing personal stories afterwards
- Providing criticism or feedback afterward, instead of when it would have made a difference
- Indicating regrets for not doing or saying something
All of us are capable of RAT-like behavior, including me. There are instances where I didn’t say something, didn’t back up a colleague, then felt bad about it and approached them afterward and placed the emotional burden on them to make me feel less guilty. All of us are engage in it from time to time. So what do we do about it? Here are a few things:
- Be aware of when you’re engaging in this: Try to be cognizant in group settings of your behaviors, especially when serious topics are being brought up. Are you doing some of the heavy lifting in calling out racism, sexism, transphobia, etc., or is another colleague? If it’s another colleague, are you backing them up?
- Recognize why you’re not speaking up: Sometimes, you may not be completely informed or up-to-date on a topic. Or you may need more time to reflect on it before speaking. These are valid reasons. But sometimes those reasons get confounded by other facts, such as that you may be fearful of being judged or punished when you speak up, and you were not ready to take that risk.
- Take tentative steps to buy time: You may not know why something bothers you, or how to best support someone when they’re taking courageous stands. That’s OK. Practice saying things like, “I am not exactly sure why, but something bothers me about how we’re having this conversation about homeless people.”
- Find opportunities to take corrective actions: If you miss an opportunity, you can still act afterward. At the next meeting, or in a message to the group before that, say something.
- Reflect on what you would do next time: Go through your mind the steps you would take if you were in similar situation in the future. The important thing is not to get stuck in guilt about what you could have done in the past, that you are not ready to do what needs to be done when a similar critical moment comes around.
Read the full article about retroactive allyship by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.
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