We live in an era where we expect “wokeness” from our peers, the cultural expectation to be socially aware, particularly in what we speak up against. If you aren’t “woke,” you’re at risk of being “cancelled,” or experience a certain level of “woke bashing.” Cancel culture has infiltrated the very fabric of our society, so much so that some people are afraid to learn, engage, and speak up. You can’t read the news or flip through a gossip magazine without reading about a celebrity losing a TV show or brand partnership deal (effectively being “cancelled”) as a result of problematic behavior. While there are both good and bad that comes from cancel culture, what lies at the heart of the matter is the call for people to become an active ally.

An active ally is one that makes an attempt to consciously breakdown learned behavior and unconscious biases: recognizing privilege; doing the homework to learn about others; speaking up when we witness non-inclusive behavior; and actively committing to the work of being an ally.

“Someday you will need an ally. I promise you that is true. When that is the case, when you need an ally, do you want to build a culture in which allyship is rich, in which you’re not going to be cancelled or condemned, but rather be given an opportunity, as a point of departure to grow?”

Professor Kenji Yoshino

Professor Kenji Yoshino, Director of NYU Law School’s Center for Diversity Inclusion and Belonging, emphasizes that allyship for him, “start with people’s passions, at its heart, it’s personal.” He became particularly fascinated by allyship because it has played such a central role in his own life, whether as a constitutional law professor, considering the role of straight allies in the passage of marriage equality, or the innumerable allies who helped him to build his career.

According to Professor Yoshino, allyship is considered a journey rather than a destination, and even the most conscious practitioners, can face challenges accepting mistakes publicly as opportunities to grow. One of our favorite examples stems from Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie show in October 2020 when the artist played a song that included a sacred Muslim verse. Once Rihanna was made aware of her mistakes instead of waiting for her public relations team, Rihanna jumped into action and immediately apologized for disrespecting Muslim culture during her show.

We can learn from Rihanna’s actions to acknowledge, understand, and immediately apologize for the pain that her oversight caused. Even those who are not actively engaged in the allyship process, or exhibiting non-inclusive behavior, must be included. Much of allyship involves encouraging reluctant people to engage in the process by finding common ground through enlightened self-interest, when confrontation can seem stressful or difficult.

This article was inspired by the “Allyship” article from Goodwin Law.

Note that the contents of this guide are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions. Contact the Cannabis Workers Coalition for employee-side employment attorney referrals.