Anyone Can Be An Ally… But Are You Willing To Be A Co-liberator?
Three weeks ago I attended a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion conference, the Inaugural Kenniebriew Conference at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, where I had the pleasure of being one of the keynote speakers. To close this conference my wonderful colleague and fellow keynote speaker Dr. Ann-Gel Palermo gave a riveting and inspiring talk on moving from allyship to co-liberation.
What I took away from this very insightful inquiry, is that while it's easy to say you are an ally, there are some very important distinctions between these terms that are often so loosely tossed around; Solidarity, Allyship, and Co-conspirator. Furthermore, while all of these are important steps, what they should ultimately lead to in the journey toward ending oppression is co-liberation.
What's the Difference?
Solidarity is what one does from a distance. It's like saying "I see what happened to you over there, and I'm sorry for you. I too agree that it was wrong."That is all. It is simply a statement of acknowledgment and agreement. There may be statements like "our thoughts and prayers are with you".There is no impact there. Imagine you are walking down the street and someone steals your wallet. Solidarity might be someone across the street saying, "I saw that, and I stand with you that it was wrong. You've got my thoughts and prayers."An absurd example, I know, but the bottom line remains. Thoughts and prayers while a nice gesture, don't solve the problem.
Allyship, is the next step up from solidarity. Here, one is saying "I support your cause, and I'm willing to do the work I need to do to not be part of the problem".People who move from solidarity into allyship will often take it upon themselves to begin to learn more about the inequities and injustices that are happening. They start to self-examine and understand their part in upholding oppressive systems. This stage is one of self-examination, a stage where people become more aware of their automatic reactions and responses and question themselves. They are actively un-learning harmful behaviors in attempt to end being part of the problem and move toward being part of the solution. In more advanced stages of allyship, self-identified allies may begin naming harmful, racist, and sexist behavior and when they see it. They may begin calling out the people in their immediate circles and may begin creating meaningful dialogues within their circles of influence. This is a great start toward meaningful change, however, to make a larger impact, the ally will need to turn their focus from themselves outward.
The Accomplice or Co-Conspirator is the next stage in the journey towards making meaningful change and is marked by the active work to dismantle systems of oppression. The accomplice/co-conspirator has reached the point of understanding of where they have a role in upholding oppressive norms and takes that knowledge forth to utilize whatever privileges they have to help correct the systems of inequity and injustice. They often become disruptors in their places of work, community, and leadership. They join alongside the communities they support and work with them to create meaningful relationships. They uplift the work that is already being done by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ leaders and look to see how they can support them in their work.Accomplices/Co-Conspirators leverage their privilege to break down the barriers that may otherwise be obstacles for those who don't inherently have that privilege in order to bring about the changes desired. This group is willing to give their time, talent and resources actively and at all times in order to move the needle in dismantling systems of oppression for all people. Another thing to note is that co-conspirators usually have skin in the game.
Then there is Co-Liberation. Co-Liberation stands on the principle that "no one is free until we are all free".It hinges on the understanding that "your liberation is tied to mine, and mine to yours".In this belief, the Co-Liberator stands distinctly from the others in the recognition that our freedom is intertwined, and that in working together toward our mutual liberation we will all benefit. The Co-Liberator understands that we must acknowledge the generational consequences that white supremacism, settler colonialism, and anti-Black racism has had on us ALL, and work toward the redistribution of power to repair and move forward in an equitable and just way. I believe that Co-Liberation encompasses the qualities of the Co-Conspirator in that Co-Liberators know they have skin in the game and are willing to put themselves on the line for the liberation of all.
Why becoming trauma informed is an integral part of this journey
Inbred inside the oppressive experience is trauma. The trauma of those who have been on the lived experienced end racism and oppression, the trauma of those in close contact who experience trauma by association, and the trauma of on-lookers (or bystander trauma).In order to truly have meaningful growth moving from allyship toward co-liberation, one must deal with their own activation and discomfort that comes with learning about the harm that has been done by oppressors with whom you may directly or indirectly related to. While it's not often talked about, learning that one's own ancestors (and quite possibly a direct bloodline member) is associated with such a horrid history can in fact be traumatic.
Understanding the nature of trauma and how it shows up individually and collectively creates a container that allows you, as the ally, accomplice, or co-conspirator to not only hold space those who have and have had ongoing traumatic lived experiences, but it also helps you to then re-evaluate your responses in a way that mitigates and prevents further harm. Additionally, moving through the journey toward being in co-liberation means that you also deal with your own traumas associated with having oppressor ancestry. At the end of the day, if we cannot heal within ourselves, we cannot hold the space for healing for each other. We are just a bunch of traumas colliding and calling it communication.
The Journey to Healing is a Mountain With No Top
The work of Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Oppression is a journey, and we are all somewhere on the path of understanding. The question to ask yourself is where you are now, and where are you willing to go to help dismantle the many systems of oppression that exist. Can you see that the oppression of one means the oppression of all? Are you willing to hold space for the lived experience of others while growing and managing your own discomfort? What will you have to change in order to move to the next level on the path, understanding that there are no wrong answers, and this journey is a mountain with no top. I'll leave you with a Lilla Watson quote shared by Dr. Palermo in her closing keynote.
"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
This information in this article includes referenced information from Dr. Tiffany Jana (article An Injustice Magazine "The Differences Between Allies, Accomplices, and Co-Conspirators, the keynote presentation by Dr. Ann-Gel Palermo "The Power of Counternarrative", and SolidarityIs.org on "Co-Liberation"
Dr. Maiysha Clairborne is a family physician, anti-racism facilitator, and trauma informed communication consultant, speaker, and trainer. Listen to her TEDX "The Perspective You May Be Missing" at https://mindremappingacademy.com/dr-maiysha-tedx/
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