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.