Allyship 201: Your Guide to Creating Long-Term Social Change


This post was originally posted on Shakti Collaborative and republished here with permission. 

By Riya Dange

As the flurry of black squares has been swept off your Instagram feed and the furor of Internet activism has died down to a simmer, you may be asking yourself: “What now?” You may have read hundreds of articles, listened to countless diatribes, engaged in numerous conversations, and reposted more than your fair share of resources on social media. Still, the centuries-old racial injustices persist. This is, after all, a marathon – not a sprint. The Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1900s spanned two decades. The Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa lasted over 30 years. And the Indian Independence Movement, lest we forget, took 90 years to achieve its goal.

All this to say: there is a great deal of work ahead. Although Black Lives Matter advocates and allies have succeeded in pushing through a number of groundbreaking reforms, new symptoms of systemic racism come to light every day. Our allyship should not begin and end with a few weeks’ worth of social media trends. If we want to help push for effective, lasting change, each of us needs to critically evaluate the long-term role we are best suited to play in this social justice movement. In doing so, we need to consider our skills, interests, and the environments in which we can thrive and make the greatest contributions.

In 2019, Deepa Iyer, a South Asian American author, professor, and leading racial justice activist, created a framework for allyship and advocacy on social justice issues. Iyer’s schema partitions people into ten roles based on their skills and interests: weavers, experimenters, frontline responders, visionaries, builders, caregivers, disruptors, healers, storytellers, and guides.

[btx_image image_id=”76441″ link=”/” position=”center” size=”full” on_click=”none”][/btx_image]

“Not all of us, “can (or should) play each of these roles.” We may be naturally drawn to some roles over others, just as we are in our day-to-day social lives. However, the role we play at any given moment may also change depending on the circumstances. This shifting dynamic, Iyer argues, is requisite to “[a]n effective, healthy, and sustainable social change ecosystem.” Iyer

[Read Related:#BlackLivesMatter: a Guide to Supporting the Movement Through South Asian Allyship]

So, as we begin asking ourselves how we fit into this movement through a long-term lens, we need to understand and explore all the different roles we could potentially play. Moreover, we should look to social justice leaders who are already carrying out those roles so we can learn from their experiences and build on their efforts with our own. On June 2nd, Shakti Collaborative co-hosted a South Asians for Black Lives Town Hall along with thirteen other South Asian-led organizations. The event was coordinated by Bhavani Rao, the co-founder of South Asians in Entertainment and founder of South Asian Women in Entertainment, and Archana Jain, the Executive Director of Product of Culture, a cultural empowerment platform for South Asian creatives. During the Town Hall, fourteen diverse speakers discussed their roles in this social change ecosystem and how the 320 attendees could work towards finding their own.

Before we embark on a tour of social change roles, interwoven with insights from the Town Hall speakers, we need to recognize a few key pointers about allyship with the Black Lives Matter movement:

  1. Your role as an ally entails elevating Black voices, not speaking in place of Black people. Because the issues addressed by BLM affect the Black community directly, you need to actively seek out Black voices before making statements or taking action on such issues. Ensure that they are at the center of your advocacy efforts. For instance, consider sharing your platform with Black friends or organizations by participating in a social media takeover.
  2. Being an ally requires lifelong growth and learning. This can be frustrating and even acutely uncomfortable at times. (I learned this the hard way.) However, if you want to be an effective agent of social change, you must remain open-minded and resilient. In the same vein, jumping to criticize a fellow ally because their priorities or methods do not align exactly with yours only slows us all down in achieving our collective goals. Extend others the benefit of the doubt, and engage in respectful, clarifying conversation instead of knee-jerk criticism. Working to become a better person and ally is a lifelong process for all of us.
  3. Racism is not a one-lane problem. It permeates every institution in our society, from our healthcare system to our education system, legal system, criminal justice system, political system, and economic system. For instance, the American prison system holds more Black individuals than those of any other race, while the American medical system is plagued by implicit racial biases and treatment disparities that result in lower life expectancies for Black Americans across the board. Even if you choose to focus on one particular system or issue, be aware that there are many others in which you may inadvertently be complicit. Stay alert, and never forget the magnitude of the problem.

In theory, the following ten roles can be applied to any social justice movement. Now, however, it has become especially urgent to exercise our allyship skills and efforts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We in the South Asian community owe a great deal to the Civil Rights Movement led by the Black community. Still, we are – sometimes unknowingly – complicit in perpetuating the systems and prejudices that hold them back. Many of these ultimately harm us as well because our ability to succeed and live well in America is intertwined with that of our Black counterparts. Only by working through our own biases and advocating alongside our fellow citizens can we create effective, beneficial change. To quote the renowned Murri activist Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

[Read Related: Confronting Anti-Blackness in the South Asian Community]

Allyship and Advocacy Roles in a Social Change Ecosystem:

The following role definitions have been adapted from the June 2020 Mapping Ecosystem Guide by Building Movement, an organization that creates and disseminates resources for emerging nonprofits.


Impassioned connectors who strive to unite people, places, organizations, ideas, and movements

You may be a weaver if you…

  • Are skilled at creating and maintaining relationships
  • Enjoy helping other people achieve their goals
  • Prioritize intersectionality and big-picture thinking

Weavers from the Town Hall include Kausar Mohammed, the co-founder of Shift, a consulting group focused on promoting racial and gender equity. Kausar and her colleagues work to connect people to opportunities by helping them overcome institutional biases. They provide workshops, professional consultations, and sexual harassment prevention courses to promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. Recently, the team has been creating frameworks on how to have conversations about anti-blackness within the South Asian community using “compassionate accountability.” On June 12th, they hosted a webinar on effective allyship.


Fearless innovators, pioneers, and inventors who embrace the risks of new ventures and learn by experience

You may be an experimenter if you…

  • Are skilled at formulating and testing new ideas
  • Enjoy problem-solving and trial-and-error
  • Prioritize persistence and solution-oriented creativity

Examples of Experimenters include Patrisse Cullors, who founded the Black Lives Matter movement and pioneered the original viral hashtag. Patrisse is a New York Times bestselling author and accomplished public speaker who has experimented with a variety of means to spread her message and grow the BLM movement. For instance, she created and launched an online Master of Fine Arts program designed to encourage activism through art.

Frontline Responders

Relentless on-site activists who address community crises by marshaling and organizing resources, networks, and messages

You may be a Frontline Responder if you…

  • Are skilled at articulating the goals of your movement
  • Thrive in high-pressure situations involving many people
  • Prioritize immediate, communal action

Frontline Responders from the Town Hall include Marco Glorious Khare, a half-Black, half-Indian television actor and producer. Marco has been on the front lines of protests in New York – and had, in fact, returned from one such protest just before speaking at the Town Hall. Having grown up at the intersection of the Black and South Asian communities, Marco levies his experiences to call his peers from both communities to action in the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement.


Bold creators who use their imagination and ingenuity to fuel new possibilities and remind the movement of its direction

You may be a visionary if you… 

  • Are skilled at creating and promoting unifying messages and goals
  • Enjoy exploring new, untapped directions to further the goals of your movement
  • Prioritize expansion, creation, and exploration

Visionaries from the Town Hall include Suju Vijayan, a film director, political activist, and elected delegate to the California State Assembly for District 46. Suju channels her many talents into marshaling large-scale advocacy for civic engagement and policy changes. She has been actively organizing protests, registering voters, and meeting with legislators to push for reductions in police funding and brutality.


Grounded architects who develop, organize, and implement ideas, practices, people, and resources to achieve a collective vision

You may be a builder if you… 

  • Are skilled at methodical idea development and execution
  • Enjoy creating something tangible and long-lasting to serve your movement
  • Prioritize hard work, grit, and high-level action

Builders from the Town Hall include Haleema Bharoocha, an advocacy manager at the Alliance for Girls who is also involved in Malikah, a women’s empowerment organization. Recently, Haleema and her team helped launch South Asians for Black Lives, a set of educational resources to help South Asians become better allies and advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement. At the Town Hall, Haleema shared four steps to becoming a more effective ally: acknowledgement of racism within oneself and one’s community, self-education about allyship and solidarity, self-interrogation by applying one’s newfound knowledge to oneself, and community action by forming relationships to effect large-scale change.

[Read Related: We Must Continue to Support Black Lives Matter, Even When the Hype Dies Down]


Nurturing spirits who serve the people around them by creating and sustaining communities based on care, joy, and connection

You may be a caregiver if you… 

  • Have a high emotional intelligence and are skilled at creating positive social environments
  • Enjoy community-building and deep interpersonal relationships
  • Prioritize support, compassion, and conversation

Examples of Caregivers include Ianne Fields Stewart, the founder and co-facilitator of The Okra Project, an organization dedicated to promoting mental health and wellness for Black transgender individuals. Ianne and her team reach out to homeless members of their community by providing them with healthy, home-cooked meals. They have also founded several initiatives to help address food disparities facing Black transgender people worldwide. 


Intrepid risk-takers who focus on using action to challenge the status quo, raise awareness, and marshal power for the movement

You may be a disruptor if you… 

  • Are skilled at identifying injustice and mistreatment and have the courage to vocalize those concerns publicly
  • Enjoy head-on confrontation of injustice and speaking truth to power
  • Prioritize whistleblowing and swift action

Disruptors from the Town Hall include Behzad Dabu, a founding member of the Chicago Inclusion Project, an organization of performing artists that seeks to level the playing field for minorities. Behzad is involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, organizing and actively participating in protests. He and his colleagues were responsible for a two-year activism campaign that successfully eliminated plans to build a $3.5 billion jail in Los Angeles County. At the Town Hall, Behzad addressed the allegations of violence against BLM protestors, insisting that the looters and the protestors were two distinct groups, and provided safety tips for audience members planning to attend protests. For instance: write important phone numbers on your arm, including someone you can call for bail if necessary; designate meeting spots before going to the protest; and cover your body completely.


Compassionate individuals who work to treat, cure, and empower those who have been traumatized by oppressive systems, institutions, policies, and practices

You may be a healer if you… 

  • Are skilled at identifying sources of trauma and helping others work through difficulties
  • Enjoy compassionate interpersonal interactions and lengthy problem-solving
  • Prioritize empowerment, compassion, and emotional resilience

Examples of Healers include Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician who has made groundbreaking strides in reforming healthcare for at-risk children. She studied how childhood trauma affected her patients’ health across their lifetime, and she incorporated her findings into her medical practice. In her TED Talk, she lays out the ways that healthcare providers and policymakers can address intergenerational and institutional trauma to better care for America’s most vulnerable children. She is currently translating her methods into policy as California’s first-ever Surgeon General.


Artistic creators who use their talents to share community stories, cultures, experiences, histories, and possibilities through art, music, media, movement, etc.

You may be a storyteller if you… 

  • Are skilled at articulating or artistically portraying the goals of your movement
  • Enjoy creative expression and engaging others in conversation
  • Prioritize sharing human experiences and weaving multiple experiences into a unifying message

Storytellers from the Town Hall include Kumari Suraj, Sundeep Morrison, Nehal Tenany, and Annika Sharma. Kumari is a half-Black, half-South Asian dancer and activist who harnesses her personal experiences to advocate against racial discrimination. At the Town Hall, she spoke about the pain she felt when her cultural ties to her Black heritage were minimized by people who “could not see [her] Blackness on [her] face.” She encouraged attendees to reach out to their Black friends in the spirit of a “mental health checkup. Ask them how are you, how can I comfort you, how can I help you and hold your hand?” 

Meanwhile, Sundeep is a writer and LGBTQ activist who sparks social justice dialogue through theatrical performances, radio shows, and literature. She presented at the Town Hall on behalf of QORE, an organization devoted to promoting LGBTQ rights. Among other initiatives, QORE holds weekly Zoom meetings for activists in the LGBTQ community. Sundeep’s current allyship efforts are focused on mobilizing and creating art to elevate issues facing the Black community.

Last but not least, Nehal and Annika are the co-founders and co-hosts of The Woke Desi, a podcast focused on intersectional social justice issues. They released a podcast episode on anti-blackness in the South Asian community and how it has been perpetuated by pop culture staples such as Bend It Like Beckham. Nehal also opened up about her experiences learning about the historical trauma behind the N-word and altering her views on its appropriation by non-Black rap music fans.


Wise leaders who teach, counsel, and advise others based on their learnings, experiences, and developed instinct for discernment

You may be a guide if you… 

  • Are skilled at breaking complex concepts into digestible pieces
  • Enjoy giving and receiving information and facilitating educational conversations
  • Prioritize widespread education, interpersonal exchange, and mentorship

Guides from the Town Hall include Dr. Sumun Pendakur and Rishi Madnani. Sumun serves as the Chief Learning Officer at the Race and Equity Center of the University of Southern California. Her day-to-day work centers around building community strength and the university’s institutional capacity for racial and social justice. She has also published multiple scholarly papers on Critical Race Theory, agents of change, and institutional transformation in favor of inclusivity. Her dissertation on transformative agents at elite universities earned her USC’s Dissertation of the Year Award. At the Town Hall, she emphasized the importance of taking regular, daily action to work towards a more just society. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “You have to conserve energy to keep doing this over your lifespan.”

Rishi, meanwhile, is a student and actor at Bates College who recorded a viral TikTok on how the model minority myth fuels anti-Blackness in the South Asian community. In both his TikTok and his Town Hall presentation, Rishi spoke about the history of immigration and civil rights in the United States, emphasizing the historical and global alignment of the South Asian and Black communities.

* * *

Each of the categories mentioned above features multifaceted leaders who are capable of playing a variety of roles. However, we wanted to highlight the specific roles they chose to focus on in the Black Lives Movement, hoping that their example can help illuminate your way forward. The road ahead of us may be long, but it will be a great deal more pleasant if we direct our efforts into work that energizes us and fulfills the needs of our social change ecosystem. Keep speaking out and taking action, and never let up.

By Shakti Collaborative

Shakti Collaborative is a digital collection that showcases the narratives of South Asian women to highlight our collective accomplishments and … Read more ›

Op-Ed: An Open Letter to President Biden in Light of Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to the States

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.

Dear President Biden,

As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.

Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.

Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law. 

India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Indexwhich examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi. 

Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. 

Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.

As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.

— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
Avatar photo
By Kiran Kaur Gill

Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. In her role as Executive Director, she is responsible … Read more ›