Since the 2010s, the term “ally” has been widely used as a catch-all to describe anyone who stands in solidarity with a marginalized community and works towards diversity, equity, and social justice. But allyship can quickly become about identity, rather than action.
This is the reason many people prefer to act as an “accomplice” rather than an “ally”: Accomplices de-center themselves and put the concerns of marginalized people ahead of their own need to feel useful. This is what being an accomplice is all about. Here’s how to be a better accomplice.
Share The Emotional—and Physical—Labor
Being an accomplice means sharing the burden of the emotional labor usually borne by people in marginalized groups alone. For example, in the workplace, the tasks of interviewing diverse candidates, conducting talks on diversity and inclusion, or drafting anti-racism policies nearly always fall to people of color, queer people, or women.
Your colleagues in these groups shouldn’t have to take on extra—often unpaid—work in addition to their regular responsibilities.
Taking some of this work on yourself is one way you can act as an accomplice. Another is to take a stand and insist on compensation for your colleagues’ extra labor.
Share the Burden of Risk
One of the biggest differences between an ally and an accomplice is that an ally might commiserate with an unfairly compensated colleague, while an accomplice is willing to risk their own social and professional position to bring about systemic change.
To be an accomplice, speak up against microaggressions, no matter how tiny. Call out unfair practices, like when a female coworker is always tasked with taking notes or organizing birthday parties, even if it comes with the risk of coming across as unpleasant. If women or people of color do less well than their white, male counterparts on performance reviews, demand manager training on implicit bias and a review of performance metrics.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
As an accomplice, make sure you aren’t inadvertently supporting racist or sexist businesses or individuals by paying for their products and consuming their content. Ensure that your actions are in line with your values.
Develop Awareness and Perspective
People from marginalized communities are often held to different standards of behavior and temperament than cisgender white men. For instance, while men are rewarded for being assertive and driven at work, women who exhibit the same drive are often considered “bossy” and “inflexible.”
Part of being an accomplice is being aware of how different things can be for people from marginalized groups, and being sensitive to these differences.
Pay attention to how BIPOC, women, and people from the LGBTQIA+ community are treated and perceived around you, whether that is in the workplace, among your friends, or at home.
“Accomplice-ship is about dismantling systems,” says author and activist Michelle MiJung Kim, in a Medium blog. Being an accomplice goes far beyond indicating solidarity by sporting a #BlackLivesMatter tee-shirt or calling yourself an ally on social media. It is all about constantly being there for the community, and tackling systemic inequities at a deeper level.
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