Am I an accomplice or an ally?

Self Awareness | October 18, 2022

This is a question that I still struggle with: am I an accomplice or an ally?

Dr. Yaba Blay, scholar-activist, cultural consultant, and anti-racism expert, explains the difference this way: 

You get a call from a friend at 2 a.m. The moment you answer the phone they say, “I need your help.”

If you’re an ally, you respond with: “I’m here for you. We’re all in this together. I’m listening.”

Click. Dial tone…

Same scenario. The phone rings, and your friend starts to say: 

“I need y—”

“I’m on my way.” You respond immediately, jumping out of bed. This is how an accomplice or co-conspirator acts.

This distinction gives me pause. Am I an accomplice or an ally? How willing am I to step outside of my comfort to support?

Early on in my antiracism journey I thought I understood what racism was. As a good white person, I did not want to be racist. I was ready to change! But I had never really looked at my own assumptions and beliefs around whiteness before, and so I had no idea what that change needed to be.

I thought being anti-racist was about hiring a diverse team and using the correct terms when talking about race, oppression and people of color. 

I’ve come a long way since then. I’ ve learned that the work goes much deeper than that. And still, I wonder…

Am I an accomplice? 

Am I willing to get in the trenches, to take consistent action?

The question itself has sparked another layer of exploration on my anti-racism journey. A journey which has already inspired me to implement a number of changes in how I lead myself, and my company: 

Every other week, I look at my white filters with an anti-racism coach.

As I work with my clients, particularly my clients of color, I constantly ask myself, “How am I perpetuating racism? Where am I assuming something or doing something because of my white filter?” 

I recommit to the work. Constantly. (Because, it’s hard. And there are times my shame gets in the way and immobilizes me.)

Every six months my team goes through anti-racism training, looking at how whiteness permeates our coaching, business structures, and assumptions.

I mention all these things to give context to the way this question of ally- or accomplice-ship still trips me up. 


Am I listing all these efforts to prove that I’m a good white person?

Would I get out of bed at 2 am if that’s what’s called for? 

Am I really stepping outside my comfort? How far am I willing to go? 

I don’t truly know if I’m an accomplice, or even an ally. Ultimately, it’s not for me to say.

What I do know, is that the question has offered me another lens through  which to examine my beliefs and behaviors.

And what whole-heartedly I believe is this: the impact of our leadership reaches only as far as we create safe, trusting relationships with the people we lead. 

What I’ve learned doing anti-racism work as a non-BiPOC leader: I can only build safe, trusting relationships when I disrupt my racist conditioning—and one of the ways to do that is to aspire to be an accomplice, not just an ally.

The point is that I start the work.  That I keep returning and recommitting to it, through the discomfort. That I be persistent and consistent and vigilant about disrupting the whiteness I so comfortably grew up in and continue to benefit from.

I believe anti-racism work is a vital component of showing up in today’s world as the best leader I can be. If you resonate with this idea, I invite you to join us: 

I have partnered with my anti-racism coach, Makeda Pennycooke, to offer an accessible, 90-minute introductory workshop on the topic for leaders who yearn to start examining their whiteness and how it impacts those around them. Find out more here.

Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant