Ally or Actor?

Ally or Actor?

In today’s social climate, being an “ally” has become a medal of honor that many wear to profess their alignment with the fight for equity, equality, and justice. Unfortunately, when the mask is removed, the facade of allyship reveals a darker truth: performative activism.

Performative activism is the act of appearing to support a cause without genuinely engaging in meaningful action or self-reflection. It’s the virtue signaling, the superficial gestures, and the empty promises that do little to address systemic issues.

Let’s face it: many so-called allies are merely actors on a stage, performing for applause and validation. They adopt the language of social justice without understanding its nuances, tokenize marginalized voices for personal gain, and conveniently remain silent when their privilege is challenged.

But why are there so many actors? Because it’s easy. It takes minimal effort and carries little risk to walk the walk. It allows individuals to feel good about themselves and construct the illusion of doing good without confronting their own biases or discomfort. But while these actors are on stage performing, they are distracting and suppressing the voices of the marginalized by overshadowing their struggles with empty gestures. It perpetuates the illusion of progress while maintaining the status quo, allowing systemic injustices to persist unchecked.

News Alert! Marginalized individuals are keen on who’s a performative ally. It’s like watching any Tyler Perry film. The acting is just bad. (How did she get back on the boat!?) Have you noticed that neurodiverse employees have stopped speaking up in meetings? Have you noticed that many of the women have gravitated to the only 1 or 2 women leaders in the company? These are signs that your actions and your words aren’t matching. People gravitate towards those they feel a connection with or feel supported by. If you feel like you are constantly met with resistance when it comes to the underrepresented community, that is a look inward to see if it’s you.

How to tell if you are an ally or an actor?

  • Do you speak up for marginalized groups when they aren’t in the room? (Ally.)
  • Do you try to advocate for equality when equity is the goal? (Actor.)
  • Have you identified a gap in perspectives and advocated that a marginalized voice fill that gap? (Ally.)
  • Have you slightly modified the work of an underrepresented individual and claimed it as your own? (Actor.)
  • Have you used your privilege to fight for change on behalf of a marginalized community? (Ally.)
  • Have you exercised your privilege in a space designed for allies? (Actor.)
  • Did you answer these questions truthfully, or did you qualify them so that you came out on top? (Actor.)

Showing up for ERG meetings or changing your profile icon is the LEAST you can do. When was the last time you called out a coworker for using the wrong pronouns? Or when did you volunteer to mentor a marginalized person to become the next team lead? Being an ally means more than putting up a Zoom background for AAPI Heritage Month or celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Being an ally means supporting diverse suppliers or having an ASL interpreter at the all-hands.

True allies actively listen to marginalized voices, educate themselves on issues, and use their privilege to uplift others. They engage in difficult conversations, amplify underrepresented perspectives, and take tangible steps toward dismantling oppressive systems.

Where can you start? I’m glad you asked. Review organizational policies, procedures, materials, and structures and take stock of where the gaps are. Are your company’s values reflected throughout the organization? Does your marketing material reflect the audience you are catering to? Are you content with your diversity statistics being the status quo? Have you created a pipeline and empowered marginalized employees to move into a decision-making role?

In the end, allyship is not about performative gestures. It’s about meaningful action, genuine solidarity, and a commitment to lasting change. A wise woman once told me, “Words without action is just information.” (B. Lisa Downey-Hood)

So I ask again…

Are you an ally or an actor?