A few thoughts for those curious why I use the word all the time
I start any convo on accountability with a focus on how we don’t always see the harm — big or small — that we do to others in our daily lives. It’s in that very moment, when we are informed of the harm we’ve done, where we define ourselves and what accountability really means to each of us personally. It is an indicator of how committed we are to actually positively contributing to the beloved community.
Many toxic behaviors come out when a person is confronted about their actions having an unintended and negative impact. Lots of gaslighting and rhetorically wiggling their way out of any accountable conversation. Lots of ego and lack of humility. Lots of entitlement to comfort and centering of one’s own feelings and fragility. Lots of avoidance and banking on the confronter losing interest in or throwing up their hands and giving up. The unaccountable party wishes nothing more than to be left alone and prays for everyone to just forget about it. When all else fails, the unaccountable escalate to anger and even violence just to avoid owning the harm they caused. We all have seen it to various degrees. I have seen it to the most extreme degrees where Nazis literally have driven cars into marches because of the lengths we’ve gone to hold them accountable and the lengths they will go to not be.
If you are fortunate enough to have a generous and open friend of color, they probably have a million different experiences of a white person dismissing the harm done whether it’s in the form of a microaggression or even much worse. (Note: Please don’t ask people of color to tell you their stories if you’re not they’re not a really good friend — and even then, don’t ask. If they are really you’re good friend you will have already heard the stories from them.)
The organizers of “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville are probably never going to come forward and be accountable for the role they played in causing harm on August 12, 2017. At the same time, many white liberals and progressives wiggle their way out of accountable convos every single day with people of color.
Other than the harm and impact on people of color, another tragic outcome of these behaviors to avoid accountability: It squanders opportunity after opportunity for an individual to not only grow, but come into a closer understanding and possibly even relationship with the confronter based on affirmations of mutual respect, trust, and curiosity rather than defensiveness, self-centering behaviors, and avoidance.
The confronter does have a right to continue to ask for accountability. The confronter should never be expected to “just let it go” even if the discomfort causes members of the community to see them as the problem. A community that tells a member to just “let it go” is not a beloved community, and not one of which I wish to be a part.
Every day we miss these opportunities.
Everyday is also an opportunity to respond differently. I made my choice for accountability over my ego and fragility two years ago. In those two years I personally have learned so much more than the first 33. An approach of humility that embraces discomfort and conflict has changed my life.
I have learned so much from my friends and especially from fellow organizers of color. I now find myself getting a bit choked up whenever a friend comes to me with a concern about something I said or did (it literally happened today, and last week, and the week before) because it means they trust that I will hear them. They trust that I will change my behavior in the future and do everything I can to prevent repeating my mistakes moving forward. Because of the addition of accountability to our relationships I never want to let them down, but I also know that if I unintentionally do, we will repair the harm caused and learn from and grow closer because of the healthy way we have collectively chosen to handle conflict not as a competition, but as a collaboration.
That’s what accountable relationships feel like and look like to me.