Allyship is the word of the year. But does that reflect our collective commitment to action?

Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash

After a tumultuous year, dictionary.com chose “allyship” as the word of 2021 (The Guardian). It seems this choice follows the trend for words chosen in years past, focusing on a topic or issue the world was grappling with within that time frame. “Pandemic” was 2020’s, for obvious reasons. And the word of 2019 was “existential,” referencing the environmental threats we faced then (and today). 

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Consider your commitment to social justice initiatives in 2022. Explore how you can support through political engagement, social commentary, philanthropic contributions, volunteering, and education.
How has your definition of allyship evolved since you first learned the term? How do you hope to expand it?

It’s no surprise that allyship would resonate after the surge of support for social justice moments. But ironically, dictionary.com didn’t have the word itselfin their database until a month prior. The site saw a “steep rise” in lookups for “ally” in 2020 and “large increases” in 2021 (The Guardian). So, in November, they added the definition of allyship as working for “the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group,” “not as a member” but rather “in solidarity with its struggle” and “under its leadership” (dictionary.com).

We all remember the performative allyship demonstrated during the midst of the crisis. But beyond that, did we as a society live up to its definition? Despite the best efforts of many, data indicates that support for social justice movements has waned since Summer 2020.

In a national poll conducted by Civiqs, 44% of respondents said they support the Black Lives Matter movement, a decrease from a high of 52% last summer (NBC News). Individuals increased their philanthropic support of racial justice initiatives, but donations were led by people of color, not white people (MarketWatch).

On the corporate side, pledges to support racial justice were “vastly overstated and mischaracterized” (NonProfit Quarterly). Although over 75% of White employees consider themselves allies to women of color at work, a September 2021 report by McKinsey and Lean In found that less than half take basic allyship action like speaking out against bias or advocating for new opportunities for women of color (McKinsey). Those most likely to take basic actions to support women of color are still women of color themselves. From the Great Resignation (Money) to the labor movement (Business Insider), it’s clear that our corporate commitment to allyship leaves lots to be desired.

Even the word itself has waned in popularity. Consider this graph of Google searches using the word “allyship” between December 2019 and December 2021.

Thankfully, movements persist longer than the latest buzzword. And their persistence carries political, social, and individual change long after the media changes its focus. In a previous issue, Andrew outlined the history of activism, citing leaders who tirelessly fought for justice throughout their lifetimes (Anti-Racism Daily). Some may be well-known activists, but we must remember that they were supported by everyday people who also dedicated themselves to change, even after the fervor faded from the headlines. 

As the founder of this newsletter, I have an intimate look at how hundreds of thousands of us are committed to social change. And that fills me with hope. But it’s clear that our future requires a more mature and nuanced relationship to allyship, one that can evolve and develop with the scope of the challenges we face. Allyship may no longer be trending, but it won’t stop inspiring our work. We’re excited for that challenge and looking forward to growing with you.

Key Takeaways

  • Allyship was named dictionary.com‘s Word of 2021 after searches for the word “ally” sharply increased.
  • Efforts of allyship have waned, or been misrepresented, since the racial reckoning last summer.
  • Movement work lives beyond the buzzwords to create actionable change, even – and especially – when interest wanes.

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