Chapter 4: Anti-Racism and Nursing Communication

What it Means to be a Critical Ally

Critical allyship is an important part of being anti-racist. Proudly labelling yourself an ally is not enough. Many self-proclaimed allies approach anti-racism through a non-Black/non-racialized perspective. Most have good intentions, but this does not necessarily translate into effective actions. 

Critical allyship can be defined as an ongoing and active practice of working toward eradicating racism in solidarity with marginalized and oppressed groups (Nixon, 2019; The Anti-Oppression Network, n.d.). An important element of this definition is the word “active” – you should take action by supporting non-dominant groups, addressing and dismantling discrimination, and working to promote social justice; this kind of action should also be informed, meaning that you should educate yourself (Brown & Ostrove, 2013). Don’t just say you are an ally – you need to act to be a real ally. Critical allyship involves open and explicit support for marginalized groups and taking action to support these groups. Another important element of the definition is that actions should involve solidarity with marginalized and oppressed groups. Critical allyship involves working with these groups to explore what they believe is in their best interests and acting in unity with them (The Anti-Oppression Network, n.d.).

As the world transitions to a digital era, allyship has followed suit and faced some unforeseen changes. Passive forms of allyship have emerged, which has led to the need for critical allyship. For example, social media users often use a shield of kindness to over-compensate for the lack of true allyship. They might “like” and “repost” allyship posts and resources. 

Specific examples of this kind of digital allyship include: 

  • Tweeting out the hashtag “Black Lives Matter” and signing off. 
  • Reposting resources for anti-Black racism and ending the conversation. 
  • Self-proclaiming oneself as an ally and doing nothing more. 

Let’s step back and evaluate what it means to be an ally beyond the digital world. Being a digital ally proves to your social circle that you care about social issues and anti-Black racism, but what can you do beyond that? A critical ally goes beyond posting on social media and engaging in meaningful actions. For example, a critical ally:

  • Has the intention to create meaningful and valuable change. Speaking out goes beyond the digital world: it means speaking out with and among peers and amplifying Black and racialized voices
  • Has genuine presence (Hardiman & Dewing, 2014) in the community and situation. A critical ally is present and not simply a bystander. Take the time to step into situations and to be physically and emotionally supportive of your Black peers and counterparts. 
  • Actively listens to the Black and racialized community and peers. A critical ally takes the opportunity to learn from those around them but also seeks out learning opportunities to understand the full spectrum of anti-Black racism and other forms of racism. 
  • Takes accountability for their actions and lack thereof. Take the time to ask critical questions, admit to gaps in knowledge about anti-Black racism, and take the opportunity to fill these gaps. 

Did you Know?

A critical ally is one who actively works to fight anti-Black racism and other forms of racism. An ally goes beyond one step and one action and instead actively cultivates anti-racism into daily life so that it becomes second nature.



Brown, K. T., & Ostrove, J. M. (2013). What does it mean to be an ally?: The perception of allies from the perspective of people of colour. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(11), 2211–2222.

Hardiman, M. & Dewing, J. (2014). Critical ally and critical friend: Stepping stones to facilitating practice development. International Practice Development Journal, 4(1), 1–19.

Nixon, S. (2019). The coin model of privilege and critical allyship: Implications for health. BMC Public Health, 19, 1637

The Anti-Oppression Network (n.d.). Allyship.

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