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Anti-Racism: a Learning Guide

This library guide aims to share resources about the effects of racism and promote anti-racist action/consciousness

What is an Ally?


The Rochester Racial Justice Toolkit, created by Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara, defines allyship as a process in which "a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group's basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society." In other words, allyship involves a person from a non-marginalized group — an ally  who uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group.

Beyond just "allyship," you may have heard the terms "optical allyship" or "performative allyship" (or "performative activism"). Optical allyship is a term coined by Latham Thomas, founder of Mama Glow and author of Own Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living and Crowning the Queen Within. Thomas defines optical allyship as one that "only serves at the surface level to platform the 'ally.'" "It makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress," she writes.

Similarly, performative allyship is defined as allyship that is carried out to increase one's social capital instead of true devotion to the cause. Though this can take many forms, a common instance of performative allyship is showing public support for the cause on social media, merely to signal one's own virtuous moral compass or otherwise, without taking the effort to enact real action offline or in private. Put simply, it's putting on the guise or display of activism and allyship without doing the actual work — a behavior that can do more harm than good to the cause at hand.

-Hannah Jeon


Performative Allyship

Performative Allyship

The practice of words, posts, and gestures that do more to promote an individual's own virtuous moral compass than to actually help the causes that they're intending to showcase; this ingenuous type of advocacy is not sustained, inactive, focuses on the individual, excuses personal behavior, projects responsibility, ignores mistakes.

What does it look like?

  • Publicly showing solidarity, but not advocating for marginalized groups in private/institutional settings
  • Correcting other people's behaviors, but not your own
  • Exclusively blaming larger systems of oppression without recognizing your own complicity (i.e., blaming police for racism, blaming religion for homophobia, etc.)
  • Only advocating for marginalized groups when it's convenient or best serves you, such as when you've been "called out" or when you can monetize off your performative advocacy
  • Fetishization, such as visiting a protest for a photo opp


Five Rules for Allies

  1. Listen and Reflect
  2. Know your Privilege
  3. Do your own research
  4. Make Space for minoritized people
  5. Be pro-active; allyship is a verb