When you find yourself in the middle of a social justice reckoning…
It’s not done when you say you’re an ally, or say you’re an anti-racist.
It’s not done when you’ve sat with your group of white friends and discussed “The Warmth of Other Suns” while sipping Chardonnay and lamenting about the struggles of others.
It’s not done until we actually achieve equity.
Now is the time for action beyond the book club.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to truly be an ally, advocate, accomplice, or abolitionist; and what steps can we take to get there?
Defining an Ally
First, let’s mention this: allyship is not the end of the journey, but it is a model that can move us further along our journey toward being an accomplice and active abolitionist. That said, it’s not really about the terms that matter; it’s about the way we live into them.
To be an ally is to unite oneself with another to promote a common interest. (Not to look good, or feel better about ourselves. We can acknowledge those motivations, and redirect our attention to the common interests we’re uniting over.)
The idea of being allied with another person or group of people has become a key concept in examining issues of oppression and privilege. Important: when people form an alliance to rectify prejudice and discriminatory systems, those who are the targets of that prejudice are not the only ones who benefit from it changing. We all benefit from creating a just society!
From Ally to Accomplice
Being an accomplice is more than feeling sympathy toward those who experience discrimination, and being willing to acknowledge that experience.
It is more than simply believing in equality.
Being a true accomplice means being willing to act with and for others in pursuit of ending oppression and creating equality.
How to Be an Active Accomplice
- Be Present
Show up to meetings where anti-racism work is part of the discussion — or needs to be (and isn’t). This could be direct anti-racism education, your state legislative meetings, local city council meetings, board of education meetings, or even just your neighborhood block group. Come prepared with thoughtful questions to ask on policies that are under consideration, or that you propose to further equity.
Listen to understand, not to respond. Do your best to understand what your friends and other connections living as people of color are communicating to you when they share their experiences. This way you can work to truly hear and internalize what people are asking for, and champion those needs.
- Realize It’s Not About You
Be objective, and avoid over-personalizing issues that people of color raise. Empathy is important, but don’t co-opt someone else’s struggles just for your moment in the limelight. Stay focused on who really matters in this conversation.
It is an ongoing practice to decenter oneself, especially if you’ve spent your whole life swimming in a culture that has repeatedly shown White people as the “heroes.” Try to shift your perspective and learn about our collective story from another lived experience. What would history, and current day, be different if you (and those who seem similar to you) were not the main character in your mind?
- Use the Language of the Movement
Using the language and political worldview of anti-racism means being specific with your words. If a policy under question is racist, call it racist. If it promotes — even subtly — white supremacy culture, identify it as such.
Be clear and concise in your message. Do not beat around the bush or favor “civility” over honesty.
- Educate Yourself and Others
Okay, so back to the book club. It’s genuinely, truly great that you discussed the book with other like-minded folks in your neighborhood. But now it’s time to take that message to other allies or potential allies who are stuck in indecision and inaction.
Take your message to your co-workers, to your church group, to the PTO. Keep repeating your message, while allowing it to adapt naturally to the people you’re speaking with.
- Recognize Your Limitations
In other words, stay in your lane. Don’t take the floor from someone who has lived the experience you’re trying to teach others about. Don’t assume to already know what Black people, or people living in another identity from yours, need or want.
And of course, within any given identity group, there are a multitude of experiences and needs; no group is a monolith.
- Don’t Ask Your Black Friends to Teach You
Seriously, don’t. We’re all carrying the weight of the current world on our shoulders. The pandemic, social strife, just life… it affects us all. But while we feel like it may be too much to bear, your Black friends have always carried extra weight, so please don’t add to it.
Need a book recommendation? Check the hundreds of curated lists online. Here’s a good one to start with, that encompasses books for people of all ages.
Need a list of actions to take? Write down 3 takeaways from this list. Schedule them or otherwise put reminders in places you’ll see them regularly. If that’s not enough to move forward with, you can join our community for more action points.
- Identify Racism as It’s Happening
Learn to recognize even subtle, passive-aggressive racism as it happens, and be ready to name it for what it is. In many communities (though of course not all), microaggressions are far more common than instances of blatant, overt racism.
Microaggressions are often unconsciously delivered in the form of subtle snubs or dismissive looks, gestures, and tones.
Remember: the point is not just to notice these, but to address them.
Continue educating yourself and others, and support solutions already championed by the people of color in your local area, state, country, or other community.
- Use Your Privilege
If you are a White ally, accomplice, abolitionist, etc., you are blessed with an incredible amount of privilege. Congratulations! The point is not to feel shame about this. The point is to extend this privilege to others who deserve it — which is everyone.
Need good talking points for speaking with your elders at that next family reunion? Read this piece titled “How to Talk to Your Parents About Racism.”
In that piece, Ijeoma Oluo advises people in this situation (wanting to talk about racism with people who aren’t so onboard) to “think about what brought [you] to the point where [you] realized it mattered, and to share that story.”
“Talk to the people that you care about who aren’t understanding this and say, ‘You know, I used to think the same way you did. But I know, like me, you care about people. And I want you to hear why I believe differently.’ And … share your journey.”
- Rinse, Rest, and Repeat.
Anti-racism work isn’t a “one and done” project. You could read every book, talk to every problematic friend, and call out every microaggression for the next half of your life, and your work would not be done. This is a beautiful thing.
Anti-racism work involves a deep exploration of the experiences and needs of those around you, unlearning the harmful daily strategies and larger systems you grew up in, and asking bigger questions about how we can make this world an equitable and flourishing place for everyone. When we rise, we will rise together.
So put down that book, gather your courage, and go out there — ready to have the hard conversations, show up for your friends, and keep exploring the solutions.
We believe in you.
You are not alone.