Want to be an ally? Vote

KC Lathrop, Chief of Staff to the CIO, IBM explains the impact real allyship can have in the racial equity struggle

With the uprise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 Presidential Election upon us, allyship and voting have become increasingly important topics. I want to explore the relationship between both and how voting can be an act of allyship.

Few would doubt that 2020 has been a devastating and shocking year. So much has happened that it’s common to hear people describe their every day as a dystopic future of a strange sci-fi film. On top of the United States’ poor response to the global pandemic, a rebirth of the civil rights movement, and the economic downturn, for many Americans, there’s a lot at stake in the next election.

This year has brought to light societal and cultural issues we have kept buried. It has allowed many of us to slow down and become aware of social and racial injustices. Many of us have now seen our privileges and recognise that, if we have a platform, we must not only speak up for those whose voices are silenced but open doors for those who are marginalised, as well.

Being white, I have seen how my privilege enables me to ignore topics or situations that are difficult and outright uncomfortable. When the word “ally” started to be thrown around, my instinct was to say, “of course, I’m an ally,” without truly understanding what it means. An ally is someone who supports disenfranchised and underrepresented groups of people within our own country, such as minorities.

In the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and as I’ve become more aware of the horrid racial injustice that has prevailed in the US, it has forced me and many others to think about how we can help reach racial justice and equity. Being an ally is more than only saying, “I’m an ally,” or even reading about racism, Black American history, and the framework that has been set to systemically disadvantage Black people in the US. For me, I see allyship as a muscle to continually exercise, even in small ways of talking about racism and discrimination.

So, why am I writing about racism for Women in IT? It’s also taken this wild year of 2020 to see the importance of understanding intersectional feminism. I can’t fight for women and women’s rights — in and outside of the tech world — and ignore that I am white or that being white often offers me privilege and a platform. I see that even opportunities like this one, where I can share my views, present a way to speak out about what’s unjust. I am working on being vulnerable to admit I have made mistakes and learning to take responsibility for my own actions.

What is my responsibility as an ally? First and foremost, I have to admit there is a problem, and there is a lot we need to change. A big part is accepting where I am and showing up for myself so I can be there for others. I’ve had to examine and be aware that I don’t have to worry whether or not I will be considered for a job due to my race. I know the struggle women experience, especially in tech, to have their voices heard and access a stage to speak their opinions. This struggle is only worsened for Black women and women of colour. As a white woman, I must not become complacent and, instead, continue to make space for other women.

This year has also blurred lines between our work and personal lives, as most of us have brought our work into our living rooms. It’s ironic now to think of things like, “Bring your authentic self to work,” when we have been somewhat forced to since the start of the pandemic. It’s harder now to separate the views we have socially and politically from the workplace. This has made me look at my own views differently. If I want to show up as an ally for other women at work, what am I doing to continue to be an ally when the workday end? One of the simplest ways I can make an impact, especially as a white woman, is by voting.

This 2020 election is shaping up to be the most important one many of us will face in our lifetime as decisions about the pandemic, economy, healthcare, education, and climate change will alter what happens to the country and world for decades to come. This election is challenging how we vote, too, as many are voting via mail. Many of us have become more aware of voter suppression, which is often based on preventing Black votes to be counted. According to demandthevote.com, “People of colour are disproportionately affected by voter suppression in comparison to white voters.”

If my vote is my voice, I must shout it and vote in the interest of many who cannot — such as documented visa or Green Card holders — and those whose voices are silenced by voter suppression.

If you want to be an ally, one crucial way is to vote. One of this year’s biggest lessons for me has been understanding that it is my duty as an ally and advocate to exercise that. Outcomes of every election — not only this upcoming presidential one — have big effects on Black people, people of colour, people in lower socioeconomic areas, and immigrants, which gives me an even greater reason to cast my ballot.

You can hear more from KC Lathrop at the Women in IT Virtual Summit New York on October 28, 2020. You can view the agenda and find out more here.

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