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Acting as an an Ally

…But what can I do? What does an ally say?
Here are examples of what you can say or do when you hear potentially hurtful or offensive comments and jokes. If you are uncomfortable responding directly, there are some indirect responses identified below. Remember that the ultimate goal is to educate and create empathy.

General Tips for How to Respond
• Describe the problematic behaviour or language. Sometimes people will say or do things without realizing the significance of their comments or actions. Identifying problematic behavior or language gives the individual the opportunity to modify it themselves.
• Remain calm and assume good intentions. People will often say something that is offensive unintentionally as a function of a limited understanding.
• Avoid labeling or name-calling. This may make people defensive and less willing to accommodate new information. Try to use a non-judgmental tone and facial expressions.

Direct Response
• Clarify what you heard: “I think I hear you saying that all _____ are _______. Is that what you mean?”; “You seem to be describing an entire group of people in a derogatory way. Is that what you meant to do?”; “It sounded to me that you think…”
• Ask for more information: “What do you mean?”; “I’m not sure I understand what you are saying. Can you explain?”; “How did you arrive at that conclusion?”; “What’s so funny?”
• Appeal to common values: “At Memorial, we value respect and sensitivity. I could see how _______ would find that statement disrespectful/insensitive.”; “In an academic setting we don’t talk about people that way. Can we discuss this more objectively?”
• Refer to your own journey: “That was my first reaction too, but then I realized…” or “I used to think the same thing, then I started to question why I thought/felt that way.”
• State your opinion about the comment: “I don’t know about the ______ peoples, but that sounds like a stereotype to me.”; “It is unfair to generalize about a group of people.”
• Appeal to the speaker’s integrity: “I’ve always thought of you as a critical thinker. It surprises me to hear you say something that sounds biased.”; “That doesn’t sound like what an open-minded person would say.”
• Explain the impact: “Your comment is hurtful”; “Comments like that perpetuate violence against _____.”; “We can’t have an informed discussion if some people feel unsafe or isolated.”

Indirect Response
• Use other signals: Give a questioning or confused glance, change the subject, or even leave.
• Repeat the statement without the discriminatory language: Someone says, “I feel like the low man on the totem pole.” You respond “Did you mean to say that you feel unimportant?”

Adapted from:
Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts, International Training and Development, LLC (2007) Aguilar, L. (Author), Lesko, J. (Producer-Distributor), SunShower Learning. For additional information see:

For more Information, please contact:
Aboriginal Cultural Education Coordinator
Aboriginal Resource Office, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's Campus
University Centre, Arctic Avenue Phone: (709) 864-3495
St. John's, NL A1C 5S7 Email:
Office: UC-3005L Web:
Office Hours: 8:30AM-4:30PM Aboriginal Student Lounge (UC-4005) Hours: 8AM-5PM