Ally vs. Activist.

So I’ve seen a lot of people self-identify all over the advocacy spectrum from an activist to an ally to an advocate. I reached out to my social media friends and asked them to answer a question I feel a lot of us have:

Can someone self-identify as an activist and if so, who? Can someone self-identify as an ally and if so, who?

“I think anyone advocating for something is an activist. I think allyship is earned though, that’s just me.”


“I don’t tend to define myself as more than a supporter (or at most that I try to be an ally but am still learning as someone else said), so I’m not sure. I tend to feel uncomfortable identifying myself as things, but if someone I respect were to call me that I would accept it. To me this is like asking what makes someone an artist (except it’s more complex than that.) Making art is what makes one an artist, but what is art?”

I’ve always considered myself a supporter or advocate of a cause rather than activist, the term never crossed my mind when it came to myself!”

“I feel like activist yes, ally no. To me activist applies to your own actions/beliefs which i def feel like are under the purview of the self. Allyship however speaks to your relationship to others, specifically those with less privilege than you and I don’t feel like that’s a merit badge you can/should be able to award yourself on their behalf as not talking over those with less privilege than you is actually you know, not fucking helpful. I don’t think anyone at all should ever refer to themself as an ally.”

“I feel like to be an activist you have to be acting, as already mentioned by people above. It drove me crazy when people would only post on FB about things but if I called on them to volunteer or make a phone call or write a letter, they disappear. I get it can be scary, but it’s also necessary.”

“Not everyone is physically or mentally able to be/do what many label as active activism. So,I don’t poo poo anyone saying they’re an activist just because they aren’t in the streets. I’m at the point where I don’t care to police how people do things. As far as allyship, I personally announce I’m an ally if asked and then ask what I can do to help/alleviate. Otherwise, I announce nothing and walk that path, listen and continue to learn.”

Anyone who has a set of beliefs/views and acts on them in daily life, attempting to maintain any sort of praxis, as well as the ability to speak up when necessary makes someone an activist. If you do none of those things, then it makes no sense to self-identify as an activist. If you’re not active, then you’re not an activist. Allyship definitely falls under activism to an extent, but with this, if you are an activist, you don’t necessarily need to call yourself an ally because it should be evident that you are an ally by the way you live your life and speak on issues in regard praxis. I sometimes see people calling themselves allies but while not being activist in any sort of immediate way.”

“I try not to identify as any, considering it is my actions not my identity that is at play. my identity is deeply entrenched in whiteness and always will be. my actions are involved with my whiteness and it is my actions that can call this into question and my actions that will speak for my support against injustice.”

I think anyone can identify as an activist. For what and how varies from person to person. I think it’s problematic to dub oneself as an ally to a community that faces more oppression than you. At most, from personal experience, saying “I try to be an ally to xyz group.” or “I want to be an ally.” or “I’m learning to be ally.” make sense to describe a relationship or responsibility to a group, but I think it’s very important to include those contexts/caveats because it’s very important to understand and reflect that your “allyship” is determined by the oppressed group, not you.”

I think it’s important to distinguish activism from advocacy because people conflate the two. I wouldn’t call myself an activist because I haven’t physically done anything to disrupt the system (besides living unapologetically in a black body).

…I would call myself an advocate because I speak the concerns of my community. The distinction is important because the expectations are different. If you are an activist, chances are you won’t have to self identify because your actions will prove it. Allyship, I think it’s very important to self identify because that way you can be held accountable by the community you want to help. There actually is no allyship without first identifying yourself as such because so much of that identity comes with being vocal, transparent, and visible (when the community asks that of you.) In summary, I think you have to self identify. But at the same time that doesn’t make you perfect. Everyone is problematic in someway. We just have to be open to the critique that comes with self identifying.”

“I do identify as an ally, partial on the activist since I haven’t been able to do a lot lately. I try to go out to events and partake when I can. I think what makes an ally, especially a white upper class ally, is understanding that my space has been made for me. I’m comfortable speaking and answering questions. I’m comfortable voicing my opinion when I feel my rights where infringed upon. So understanding that other people haven’t had that same right, that same kind of space is important. The next step in being an ally, to me, is not only understanding that but then letting those who have had their rights and privileges stripped because of who they are, SHOUT. It is not my place to speak or shout on their behalf, it’s my job as an ally to hold their hand literally or metaphorically and support them. I speak when they need me and I take action when they need me, but like I said, it’s not my place to talk about a life I have no idea about. Lastly, being an ally is about accepting mistakes, owning them, learning them, and growing from them even if it’s embarrassing.”

“As far as allyship, I’m wary of anyone who labels themselves that but I have called people allies to x cause when they’ve acted as one, and I’ve seen others do the same (to me and others). That is, allyship is a verb, it’s an action, it’s not a state of being. And as I like to say, being an ally is not ‘once saved, always saved.’ Allyship is constantly in flux and must always be checked. It is our interactions with those outside the group, not towards those we are supposedly allies to. As a white person, my position as ally means reining in and educating white people. It is NOT a pass for me to say what POC do or do not do in x situations, speak over POC, arguing against their lived experiences, etc. Allyship is outward action. Activism and advocacy are inward action. Action with and for one another inside an identity.”

“I agree with allyship being earned. Naming yourself an ally makes you seem like a tool. And I also think activist has to be earned. Like someone said you gotta disrupt the system. I would consider myself aware and constantly trying to educate myself and learn. I think once you start dubbing yourself things that carry a large amount of responsibility without really doing the work then you fall short and people lose faith in you.”

“I think you can self identify as an activist. Allyship should be earned.“”I agree with the person who said that activism requires action (even if that action is very very small). Ally is someone who is vocal and helps amplify the voice of an activist. I think an ally is earned. You must study the thing you are advocating for. You must know when to be quiet instead of adding to the distraction. I’m also of the belief that all marginalized people are activists of that particular group, even if they do nothing. I believe that a black man living his day to day life is living the life of a civil rights activist. A woman, even if she is a house wife and doesn’t ever protest anything, is living the life of a feminist. She has suffered the consequences of her oppression or the prejudices people have against her. She has carried on.”

“I think you can always call yourself an activist, but if you’re…say a pro life activist and your “activism” involves bomb threats or actual violence then you’re a fucking terrorist. I dunno…”


I think it’s important, no matter how you self-identify, to pay attention to the voices of marginalized people in a space. You should always be aware that you are not speaking over, or tone-policing, belittling or exerting your privilege and power over people who you say you advocate for.

As we continue to get responses, we’ll update the post, so if you have your own input add a comment below. Thank you for everyone who contributed!

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