Accountable Allyship and Accompliceship for Ourselves and in Our Communities

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Accountable Allyship and Accompliceship for Ourselves and in Our Communities

By Hillary Detamore, CEO, YWCA Olympia

Hello. My name is Hillary Detamore, I use she/her pronouns, I am the CEO at YWCA Olympia, and  I am writing today about allyship and accompliceship in the fight for racial justice. I want to start by locating myself in this conversation, as someone who lives and works on the stolen, unceded, occupied land of the Nisqually, Coast Salish, Cowlitz, and Squaxin Peoples. I am someone who has mixed race heritage and also holds white privilege and was socialized as white. I have cis-privilege, able-bodied privilege, educational privilege, and positional privilege as a CEO, among other forms of social privilege. I also have a mixed-class and strattler class background, grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the geographic and cultural south of the United States, and I am currently a single, co-parenting, mother of two young kiddos who are six and eight.

I wanted to start in this way as a form of accountability for the unearned advantages I have as a result of all these privileges and to be transparent about the lenses and conditioning through which I am speaking here. I want to give all credit for the learnings here to our brilliant and fierce colleagues, the womxn of color who have tirelessly led the way at YWCA Olympia, who have contributed immensely to my growth as an anti-racist and to our organizational integrity. I also want to acknowledge and thank the generations of people who came before us who fought and have been fighting for equity and justice and who have led the way for all of us. I take full responsibility for the ways in which my understanding and skills continue to fall short and perpetuate harm. I have a firm commitment to continuing to learn, be accountable, and grow as an anti-racist and as a caring and loving human being in our collective work toward racial justice.

It goes without stating that I am writing this today in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has put on full display the inequities that we know have always been present since the colonization of these lands. We see how disproportionately Black communities and communities of color are impacted because of historic and generational trauma, and resulting health disparities from that trauma, as well as inequitable health care treatment, crowded living conditions because of systemic poverty, and other reasons. We’ve also seen the violence inflicted upon Asian individuals and the scapegoating of these communities for what is a global pandemic. We’ve seen how the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, Tony McDade, and so many other Black people, at the hands of the police and white armed vigilantes, have brought the masses to the streets in protest and riots, around the globe, to demand that Black Lives Matter. We are seeing how these clarion calls include demands that the systems that uphold anti-Black racism and systemic oppression be dismantled and that the solutions that Black communities and communities of color know are needed in order to begin fixing this broken system be centered and implemented.

While I could continue naming the inequities and horrors of dehumanization that we have been witnessing for years, and it feels helpful to do that in some ways, I’d like to suggest that this alone keeps racism in the abstract for so many, and we need everyone to take this personally, especially white folx.  So, what I’d like to do is present a few thoughts and questions that we’ve been exploring at YWCA Olympia and suggest that by doing similar inquiries personally and organizationally, we can jointly create the foundations that will support accountable allyship and accompliceship in our communities and our YWCA network.

So, how do we not abstract or distance ourselves from race and racism but rather see how these patterns and norms of dehumanization and violence are the patterns and norms by which we are being conditioned, and which are operating within us, at the subtle, inner level?  At YWCA Olympia, while we are focused on systemic change through advocacy, our primary programs and organizational focus is really on doing the deep self-reflection and discernment related to cultural norms that is needed to see and untangle from the patterns of conditioning that cause oppression.

What we are asking from ourselves and the community is both visionary and practical. And this moment, this task in front of us –  to become anti-racist as individuals and collectively – is asking something fierce of us. It is asking that we look honestly at the ways that white supremacy culture and racism are operating within ourselves. When we look, we realize how strongly it has taken root inside us. Harm is showing up in overt ways and subtle ways, and folks with white privilege, who are conditioned to uphold oppressive, power over dynamics, do so without even being conscious of it, and people of color who are forced to minimize difference, or assimilate to dominant culture norms in order to survive, are causing lateral harm among each other. White supremacy is weaponizing us against each other, all while the system of white supremacy continues on without being dismantled.

YWCA Olympia is inviting all of us to do the work to uproot the conditioning of racism that is operating within ourselves, so that we can stop harming one another and stop killing one another. And we are also asking of ourselves, and all of us, to humbly and sincerely listen to and implement the solutions that communities of color – and specifically womxn of color, who are most impacted by intersectionality –  are asking for, are demanding of us, and not just at a federal legislative level, but also within each of our organizations, each of our departments, and all of our programs.

What do these solutions look like? At YWCA Olympia, we’re trying to figure this out, what this looks like, how do we do this. We know there’s no one right way. These are some of the questions that we’ve been exploring: What does it look like to hold community space as an organization and as individuals in a way that is aligned with anti-racist values and agreements? What does it look like to shift organizational structures away from top down models of domination and hierarchy to models that encourage and grow shared leadership? What does it look like to hold collective care as an organizational value and really live into that and place as much – if not more – emphasis on that as we do budget size or number of individuals served?

As we’ve been asking these questions and exploring different approaches, we’ve learned a lot and we continue to learn. Along the way, we’ve deepened our practice to the point of now becoming a resource to support our community to do the same. Guided by our values of centering the wisdom and leadership of Black and Indigenous womxn & womxn of color, accountability, people over systems, and collective care, we are now focused on healing in community, anti-racist education, and participant centered advocacy. This is work, and these are values that we hold with integrity in all organizational spaces, policies, and programs and that we collectively practice so that we can deepen our understanding of how to bring them to action and live them.

We are asking YOU to participate fully, and to move alongside us, with a fierce commitment to doing what needs to be done to end racism and all forms of oppression – within yourselves, within the spaces that you navigate, and within our YWCA community. Thank you for your fierce commitment and courage.