Two weeks ago, in the #BlackLivesMatter course, a discussion occurred that has been on my mind for some time. I have noticed at Bates College there are quite a few students, including myself, who identify as allies to different oppressed groups. For an example, I believe that I am an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community and a feminist as I truly believe in rights for the LGBTQIA+ community and women throughout the world. However, is believing enough?
On Tuesday, March 10, 2015, Alicia Garza, one of the three founders of the #Blacklivesmatter movement, gave a talk at St. Mary’s College of California to people interested in fighting against anti-black racism, as well as connecting the community together. After her speech, she joined a diverse panel (White, Black, and Asian) who represented different races and experiences, but still had this common idea that white supremacy is not good for anyone. After the panelists shared their experiences in dealing with oppression and why the system should change, it was Garza’s turn to respond to what she heard from the other panelists. Garza validated and connected everyone’s experiences together, even that of the white woman who acknowledges that she will never know what it is like to be black in the United States: that she will never have to protect her son the way that a black mother attempts to by explaining the rules in which you oblige in order to survive in this country. The rules that ask you not be too black in public, but to be just black enough in order to get people to like you (being black enough by fulfilling the diversity requirement for schools, being black enough by performing above average in athletics, etc). Towards the end of Garza’s spiel, she stated that there are ways that the system could be cracked, and in order to crack it, “we do not need allies, but co-conspirators”.
In class we discussed the difference between allies and co-conspirators. As a class, we reached a general consensus – an ally is someone who does not act, but acknowledges the injustices that occur to minority groups. Allies continue to go on about their day regardless of whether or not something detrimental has affected another community. A co-conspirator is someone who acts on what they believe in and tries to bring justice to everyone. Co-conspirators are ready to fight for change, for equal rights and opportunity for everyone regardless of class, race, gender, sexuality or occupation. It is important to add that co-conspirators could have privileges such as being white, rich, male, heterosexual, etc., but are unafraid to use their privilege to voice concerns and fight for others in the non-dominant group.
Before discussing the difference between the two, I prided myself on being an ally to many different oppressed groups, but now my perspective has shifted. I am realizing that being an ally is not enough to bring change. Rather, I need to actively listen to the people who are being affected; when they need me in the front or back fighting for them, I must! I do not want to be an ally, but rather a co-conspirator. I will try to actively fight for justice for all because everyone deserves to have the privilege of a cis-gender, heterosexual, white male.
Being a co-conspirator means checking myself, my friends, family, and other people who I do not know when derogatory terms are used. Being a co-conspirator means being willing to stand up for oppressed groups because justice and freedom for all is much better than justice and freedom for some. Being a co-conspirator means making a change right now. This change entails less conversations and more action, because the conversation about ways we can end oppression have been going on forever. Now, it is time to act.