Even though at Firewood we’ve been committed to inclusivity for all people, in this current social climate, we’ve recognized that we need to take further steps in ensuring that we’re living up to our values. This starts with having conversations around what it means to be an ally—how each person might use their privilege to actively support and amplify someone whose voice or experience might be otherwise stifled.
The following are stories shared by some of our employees about how they see allyship.
I’m forever grateful to the PFLAG organization for their allyship. Their help allowed me to have a healthier perspective on my new family structure. You see, back in the late ’90s, my mom and dad decided to separate after being married for 21 years, which led to the eventual coming out of my dad six months later. While this is more common now, it wasn’t so much back in 1997. Will & Grace hadn’t aired yet, and the openness for different types of family units weren’t as widely celebrated as they are today.
After researching support groups, I found a local PFLAG chapter to connect with, and the group helped me realize we weren’t the only family going through a transition like this. It took time, but our family adjusted. Now we celebrate holidays and birthdays as one big family, with my dad now married to his husband and who my kids affectionately know as Lolo and Grandad. More recently, I’ve had a few friends who have gone through similar situations with a parent coming out, and they’ve said that me sharing my story helped them ease into their family transition, knowing they weren’t alone in their experiences.
As an Asian American, one of the hardest things to do is talk to your relatives about race—hell, it’s hard to talk to them about anything. LGBTQ rights. Body shaming. Anti-Blackness. But as a family, I believe we are uniquely situated and obligated to speak up and say something.
My mother asked why Black lives mattered more than other lives, more than Asian lives. I told her it’s because they aren’t valued nearly as much. Our dinner conversation took a winding path across BLM (Black Lives Matter), police brutality, the model minority myth, racial discrimination by other BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) of BIPOC, systemic racism, how Fox News (which she watches, though not as often now) plays a role in shaping narrative. How just because you were on the receiving end of racism doesn’t mean you should perpetuate it back.
I am lucky: she’s curious, (mostly) open to learning, and this is not the first (or last) “tough” conversation we’ll have. I found resources to share, both with her and with the wider Asian community. To me, being an ally means showing up and having the patience and mental fortitude to engage in these tough conversations and start the change from within.
The conscious and unconscious things we do and say every day spring from our habits, experiences, beliefs, and knowledge. As a result, we may not question them as often as we could, and easily repeat things that we are unaware could be contrary to what we believe in our hearts is right. The messages of awareness, now thankfully conveyed openly, remind us to question what we do and say. This gives us the golden opportunity to speak more consciously and act according to what we think is right, having considered what we might not have had awareness of in the past. One example of this in my work life was asking a recruiter for a balanced selection of candidates for some open positions. Best case: the outcomes had a positive impact on the people involved, and perhaps their friends or family. It’s a bit frustrating though, because I’d like to have a larger impact.
There are many proverbs about small things that coalesce to something larger. Perhaps there is more than one way to think about this. One is that efforts made by an individual during their lifetime can add up to a larger contribution. Another is that efforts by many have that same property. Either way, the path of allyship launches the conversations, raises the questions, and multiplies our power to continue the fight.
I’ve made sure to do the work of educating myself on the reality of the transgender experience, especially trans women of color. It’s important to uplift trans voices, donate to trans organizations, and show solidarity.
A friend of mine messaged me asking if I could nominate her to get picked up by a fine art publisher when the publisher asked for nominations of Black artists. My friend explained that she had submitted an application weeks prior, but had not heard back and felt uncomfortable proclaiming her Blackness. Without hesitation, I nominated her and then sent her links to Black creators and business owners who had felt the same hesitation, but recently had found the courage to proclaim their Blackness loudly and proudly. Now we both share opportunities with each other whenever we find them.
Allyship isn’t something I usually give or receive recognition for. It sits under the small actions of everyday encounters. It’s echoing someone else’s point in a business meeting who may have been spoken over. It’s helping POC (people of color) find jobs with my connections. It’s calling out someone’s racist joke in a room full of white people. It’s finding leaders of color to help build a new business with me. It’s amplifying their voices on social media. It’s doing the deeply personal work of educating myself on history and injustice, and evaluating the role I play in white supremacist institutions. It’s a lifelong quest to make every company I’m a part of or build, every relationship I have, and every child I help guide become more antiracist and equitable for all. I’m not celebrating my allyship, but I am digging deeper into the work than I ever have before.
The biggest thing I can ever do to be an ally is to talk to my family and friends about injustice and checking in on my mom, dad, niña, niño, and cousins to see how they’re reacting to current systemic failures. Taking time to listen and educate the friends and family around me is important work that shouldn’t stop when people seem to be done grieving. I cherish my family deeply, and I want to share the love of my family with my friends. If I bring a friend back to my family’s home in the rural Central Valley and my friend is not white/Mexican/straight/Christian, I want my friend to still receive all the love and joy my family has to offer. Talking to my family and checking them beforehand ensures all my friends will feel welcome, as my family will respect them and hopefully even understand them. I’m not perfect and will never know everything there is to know about any marginalized community, but I will always be ready to learn.
I suppose my story isn’t quite unlike many other 20-something-year-old white men in the world who’ve felt the desire over the past month to join their communities and support the end of systemic oppression. A few weeks ago, I was one of thousands to join a protest across the Golden Gate Bridge in support of all Black lives, and to end the senseless and lawless violence at the hands of police that continues to disproportionately affect people of color. It was an extremely powerful afternoon, and my first time actively supporting the BLM movement.
Given how many other white people joined the protest, I’ve felt at times (even while typing this out) that sharing my experience would seem insignificant. Almost like a “so what?” And, honestly, I’m not sure that I have the best or right answers, but what I’ve come to is that I hope sharing my experience would encourage other 20-something-year-old white men to share theirs. Showing up matters. Your presence—even amongst thousands of others with louder (and softer) voices—matters. Acknowledging your privilege as a white person matters. I understand that I will never understand, but I stand with you.
Being an ally—or, more accurately, an advocate—is an orientation to the world and a daily practice. It’s consciously engaging and constantly evaluating when to step up—and when to take a step back and listen. But the thing that informs all of my actions is that I prize diversity as a fundamental value. I use my professional skills and network to amplify the work organizations like the Immigrant Defense Fund and Hack the Hood are doing to combat systemic racism (facilitating Firewood support of over $25,000), and am raising our two white boys to value diverse perspectives, check their privilege, be critical consumers of media messages, and seek opportunities to actively step up for others. Each day, I work to actively educate myself and learn how much more I can do.
In college, I worked at a tiny, high-end lingerie boutique in downtown San Francisco. We had all kinds of customers, and I did my best to treat everyone with equal kindness and respect. One day, a trans woman came in looking lost and nervous. I said hello and tried to make her feel at ease with small talk. Eventually, she felt comfortable enough to tell me that she was looking for a bra, but had never been fitted for one. She also told me that she’d been to a few other lingerie shops and had been treated badly. I brought her everything we had, helped her find the right size, and did my best to help erase the bad experiences. In the 20 minutes we spent together, her whole demeanor changed. She was now excited and having fun.
The most humbling thing was the fact that I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, only my job. But just being treated the way she should have been from the beginning had clearly made a difference. It broke my heart to see how much pain she was used to carrying.