“I want someone to do more than just feel for me. I want someone to do more than just listen to my pain. I want someone to be more than an ally, I want them to be an accomplice.” -L. Follins
A few weeks ago, a friend made this comment to me over lunch. I was taken aback by the statement because rarely have I ever heard someone frame the conversation on allyship in this manner.
What I heard in that conversation was someone who was tired of people using the word as a noun. What I heard was someone who was ready to challenge the status quo. What I heard was a Black queer woman saying that we will never get free as marginalized people if we don’t have the help we need to undo the vast systems of oppression and systematic hate that marginalized people face on a daily basis.
I was moved by this statement because it said something about the climate of social justice. It brought to light not only the problems that we see in social justice spaces, but problems we have as a culture of people who feel, more than do.
Since Charlottesville, I have had several of my white friends reach out to me. Many of them have offered their ear and several of them have shared with me ways that they too have been hurting. But this seems to be the common rhetoric when we talk about allyship: privileged individuals often centering their feelings in the conversation instead of talking to marginalized people about what they plan to do to help them get free. While there is a great deal that can be said about acknowledging privilege and using it to dismantle oppression, we have to understand that times like these call for those who aren’t afraid of doing the work.
Now before you go all out and get upset with me, the writer, I wanted to take a quick moment to discuss that there is nothing wrong with being an ally. Several of the people that I know and love are great allies and have proven their allyship for me and my communities time and time again. Hell, much of what I do requires having great allies because I realize that a great deal of what I say and do in my work rubs people with power and privilege the wrong way. But often, I need more than someone talking with me about my feelings. I need someone who is willing and ready to go to war with me, even if it means risking their livelihood. I, in fact, need an accomplice.
Now I know you might be thinking, “doesn’t the word accomplice mean helping someone to commit a crime?”
If you were to ask me that question, I would say that you are 100% accurate.
However, you have to understand that as Black/Brown/Queer people of color, being alive is simply that. A crime. So by being our accomplice in times like these, you are actively helping us to resist a system that sees us as just that, criminals. You are helping us to maneuver a system that is setup to keep us mentally enslaved. By being an accomplice, you are telling the world that you recognize the system for what it really is and that you are willing and able to do the work to help dismantle it.
So What Does It Mean to Be an Accomplice?
Being an accomplice means more than just understanding the problem, but being a person with a plan to solve it. It is about understanding that you, as an ally and potentially someone with privilege, have worked to create a foolproof plan to help end systems of oppression.
As noted by Reagan Jackson, it’s about knowing and understanding that we have to go beyond talking about the fight. That solidarity means actually being the one standing behind the front lines. It is about being complicit in the struggle towards liberation and being okay to take a step back to move marginalized people forward.
The part that is most pivotal in conversations about moving from ally to accomplice is questioning what you are willing to give up. It is about asking yourself are you willing to lose elements of your privilege to help someone else’s life become easier to navigate. More, it is also about contextualizing the way that you stand up and speaking truth when someone else lacks the necessary power to stand in their own.
Being an accomplice is more than just listening to others talk about the struggle. It is about solidifying a course of action that helps you commit to undoing it.
• It is about vocally calling out the family members you knew who voted for Trump.
• It is about holding people accountable for their racist and anti-Black/Brown antics.
• It is about holding folks in privileged positions accountable for their passivity on anti-queer rhetoric.
• It is calling out toxic masculinity and misogyny when it comes up in conversation.
• It is about doing your own research about topics you don’t understand, but want to help support.
Being an accomplice is about risking your voice in order to elevate those who are often silenced.
In all, being an ally during this time is not enough. Being an ally right now only lets people know that you recognize that the tiki torches aren’t coming after you. Telling someone that you are an ally at this moment in history only reassures us that you see the problems that we face.
We just want to know are you ready and able to do something about them.
Dr Jon Paul has a doctorate in education, is a Top 100 Emerging LGBTQ Leader, and has been published in TheRoot.com, Blavity,com, WeAreYourVoice.com, and is a regular contributor to Soule.lgbt.
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