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How do I become a better Ally?

We are often contacted at Elizabeth Morgan House by non-Aboriginal Victorians who want to know what they can do to defend the rights of Aboriginal women and children. Great, glad to see you here! We are at a unique point in our history where we are learning about how de-colonisation will work for us. It’s an uncomfortable topic but hopefully we can work through the discomfort to reflect, learn and take action.

What part do I play in racism?

Many non-Aboriginal women don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Being open to learn and being ok with making mistakes is a great start. Many women are socialised to believe they have to be perfect in all things – we know! This is unhelpful as an ally, and as we hope you’ll see, is part of coloniser thinking.

You might not realise it, but you are part of a way of life that has set up systems and policies that make it harder to be different and to experience hardship. You may have experienced hardship yourself so understand how difficult it can be. We need to dig deeper to see why there are extra layers to that hardship for Aboriginal women and what you might be able to do to change that.

So, here’s our guide to getting you started on your journey to allyship.

Understand the context

The trauma of colonisation reaches from our past into our present. To understand how intergenerational trauma impacts Aboriginal communities, here’s a great explainer video:

Racism and sexism still prevail in our community because the layers of discrimination that created colonisation, are still here. Let’s examine at these layers of discrimination:

Systems (think about the justice system or the medical system) may still have policies and practices that discriminate against women and Aboriginal people. We know that Aboriginal women are being incarcerated at increasingly higher rates for example or that women are still facing discrimination when in the workplace or persistently experience physical and sexual violence.

Community attitudes often result in the condoning of violence towards women and children. These attitudes can then bleed into behaviour in interpersonal relationships. Perpetrators use violence because, for example:

  • they have learnt that behaving in coercive or abusive ways is normal or acceptable.

  • they have become invested in domination, control, and entitlement over their intimate partners or others.

  • they have experienced violence themselves as children with impacts on their emotional and social development and attitudes.

  • they are enabled by wider gender inequalities and other social inequalities (they see the layers of discrimination and are emboldened by them); and/or, they expect to face few, if any, negative consequences for their actions. (Flood, et al, 2022)

And lastly, many victims of racial and/or gendered violence believe these ideas themselves. Many are told they deserve it or are asking for it. Many Aboriginal women feel hopeless after constant discrimination on all those layers.

Understand the impact

Constantly feeling like you are not welcome, in your home, in your workplace and other community spaces drains you socially, emotionally and physically. Studies have shown that racism over a lifetime impacts the onset of disease, leads to poor economic outcomes and decreased satisfaction with life.

An Australian Study of young people who had experienced racism showed:

  • ongoing feelings of sadness, anger, depression and being left out

  • headaches, increased heart rate, sweating, trembling and muscle tension

  • a constant fear of being verbally or physically attacked

  • not wanting to go to school

  • having little or no trust in anybody apart from family.

'Racism makes me question myself and why things have to be this way … I wondered one day what it would be like to be white and how much better my life would probably be. That was a low point.' - Andrew, 19

Listen, learn and keep showing up

Being an Ally means you recognise these issues and are actively working against those layers of discrimination. Here’s some suggestions to think about your part in dismantling discrimination:

  • If you work in an organisation that works with Aboriginal women, how are you making it safe for them and ensuring you aren’t causing more harm?

  • What government policies can you lobby your local MP about (check out our Advocacy page for what we are focused on right now)

  • How can you help change racist community attitudes when you see them?

  • How can you raise the voices of Aboriginal women or contribute to Aboriginal causes?

  • When you think about gender and women’s issues, how are you considering or inviting Aboriginal women into the conversation?

Allyship is a journey. Print out our handy poster to reminder yourself of what an ally is. The process of dismantling over 200 years of colonisation is long and hard. We need to work together for a future that is free from racial and gender-based violence and all the forms of discrimination that deny Aboriginal women and children their human rights.

‘Our women are strong and courageous, with hopes for themselves and their kids and the right to live as they determine, free from violence and discrimination. We need to work to remove the barriers that take these rights away,’ Kalina Morgan-Whyman, CEO, Elizabeth Morgan House

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