Do not fear the page length of The Good Ally, which, in paperback form, is enormous. The book has a generous font size, it’s easy to read in terms of language, and the author, Nova Reid, is firm but empathetic in her approach to those of us who want to be actively and effectively anti-racist but may find ourselves sidelined by ignorance, fear, shame, and our own internalized White supremacy. Even if you’ve done a lot of allyship work previously, you will find something new and helpful in this book, which came out in a paperback version in May.
Reid begins by defining terms. She also begins the book by talking about discomfort. More than any other theme, the importance of recognizing and working through discomfort is integral to the book. While Reid is uncompromising in calling the reader to action, she is also empathetic when it comes to the fact that her readers will experience feelings of discomfort, especially in the form of shame, in the course of working through what she calls the four stages of anti-racism work:
- Responsive Action
Over and over again, Reid tells us (the reader) to stop, to listen to our bodies, and to note what we are feeling. Reid says,
The process is not linear and you will flit between these stages of anti-racism work throughout this book…A huge and important component to anti-racism work is practicing your own self-enquiry, being self-aware and honest with yourself…Pay attention not only to your thoughts, but to how this work makes you feel in your body physically. The latter is vital, because we’ve got very good at numbing when it comes to racism.
I found Reid’s repeated reminders to stop and take stock of my body, to sit with that discomfort for a minute before reacting, to be incredibly helpful. In almost every chapter, Reid revisits the importance of checking in with oneself before defensively reacting by denying, minimizing, excusing, or otherwise failing to properly confront racism whether in ourselves or in others. She lists some of the common behavioral and physical responses to feeling shame and talks about how to build ‘shame resilience.’
One thing I appreciated was that instead of just defining things like “performative allyship,” Reid gives a lot of examples. Even though I already knew the basics about performative allyship, seeing the examples deepened my understanding significantly. I also felt this way about her discussion of ‘splitting,’ and ‘racialized fragility.” In all of these cases, as well as others, she grounds an abstract idea in concrete examples of behavior, which makes the concept much easier to understand and internalize.
I found the many reminders and guides of how to sit with my feelings FIRST and open my mouth AFTER THAT to be the most helpful, but I’m sure different readers will find other parts of the book that speak to them. Reid is British, and as an American I found it fascinating to read about what racism looks and feels like in the U.K. as opposed to the U.S.A. She devotes a chapter to raising children, both in a family context and in school. Another chapter focuses on race in the workplace. The endnotes are extensive should you wish to do further reading, and the book is sprinkled with resources to get the reader started with action. A chapter about Black women, specifically, is painful but necessary reading, and it’s followed by a chapter on self-care and advocacy.
In a concluding chapter, Reid says, “Leaning into allyship is about waking up and gaining a new level of consciousness over and over again.” This book is a great guide for people who are new to allyship while also giving much needed reminders and expanded information to readers who have been struggling to be “good allies” for a while. While the book is specifically about allyship as pertains to racism, much of it applies to other forms of allyship as well. I’ll be learning from it for a long time.