Sultana Khan is a social justice advocate who works in youth development. Previously, she worked as a national security correspondent and cultural commentator for Gawker Media.

This will be my last Roles of Engagement column.

I’m not all that sad to say goodbye to this column, born 20 months ago out of post-election fury, fear, the slightest sliver of hope, and lots of beers at Rosie’s — it’s been a trial to write honestly and positively about opportunities for change as my personal optimism regarding society has been at an all-time low. As our local and national landscapes have continued to evolve, I think the time has come for other voices to take up space on these pages. If you haven’t been reading Meaghan LaSala’s recent work about climate justice (in the column Weathering the Storm), or Lala Drew’s column “Unpacking the New Normal,” you’re missing quality reads from the Phoenix.

It’s been a weird couple of years writing about allydom in a time when it’s so desperately needed, and more visible than ever, and yet seems so far from reach. I’ve also struggled with the idea we’re individually responsible for educating ourselves on the ways in which we can use our privilege to better the lives of others. I worry that my short little rants have encouraged people to do the minimum amount of critical thinking, wrapped by a neat little platitude bow at the end of each piece.

It’s hard to pack all the things I want to say into a paltry 600 words — I could write a dissertation on how frustrating it is that our collective attention span doesn’t lend itself to wordy pontification, the kind of writing most cherished by me, your beloved local benevolent dictator. It’s one of the reasons I want to go back to writing more feature length pieces for the paper, and I hope you’ll find the time to read my longer work in the future. If you think I’m loquacious here, imagine the obnoxiously long-winded diatribes I can offer with 1800 words at my disposal.

Here are the things I would encourage you to do as my final words of advice for good allies:

  • Read things that make you uncomfortable, sad, and angry. Last week, an opinion piece in the New York Times by Andrea Long Chu entitled, “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy,” made me feel more feelings than the last episode of Buffy, which is my general benchmark for emotional overload. I was educated by her words, and awed. And obviously, thanks to my puritanical upbringing, a headline in the New York Times that uses the word “vagina” is frigging delicious.
  • Break bread with folks you don’t know with the intent to listen. It’s amazing what you can hear about your neighbors and their lives when you just shut up for a minute and eat some food. There’s no better way to learn about someone’s culture than sitting down to eat with them.
  • Develop new lenses for viewing the world. Did you see the video of a man dressed in a bear suit attacking people’s tents on Black Friday? Did you think it was funny? Did you know that the folks most likely to take part in those “wait outside the store until midnight” Black Friday sales are low-income, minorities, and mothers? Who is the kind of person who might have the extra income to buy or rent a bear costume just to harass poor folks while they try to buy gifts for their families? Is it really that funny? (Hint: no.)
  • Learn to be okay with being the friend who talks about social justice and equity and truth all the time. The more you do it, the more normalized it becomes. If people are irritated by your constant, “yeah but did you know that 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs,” GOOD. Imagine being friends with someone who isn’t horrified by that statistic.
  • Keep at it. We’ll get there.

Thanks for reading.

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