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Just about everyone knows what it means to be an ally, but a new term, “accomplice,” is becoming more commonly used, so let’s break this down. Firstly, what does it mean to be an ally? To be an ally is to act as an ally — it’s not just a label. An ally understands that not everyone in society has equal footing. They recognize their own privilege and how it coexists with their marginalized identities. It’s important, though, not to abuse this position by using it to “save” BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) but instead uplift them. An ally is someone who is both a disrupter as well as an educator in spaces dominated by whiteness. Allyship is the basis for participating in anti-racist work, but it is also just the starting point. All allies should strive toward becoming accomplices.


I’ve mentioned “accomplice” a few times now, so let’s break down what it means to be an accomplice. Accomplices directly challenge white supremacy by opposing racist people, policies and structures. Realizing that our liberation is bound together, retreating in the face of oppressive structures is not an option. Accomplices actively listen with respect, and they understand that BIPOC hold a variety of beliefs and preferences for tactics. Accomplices aren’t motivated by personal guilt or shame. They are not emotionally fragile when it comes to being held accountable. Accomplices build trust through consent and open dialogue; this means not acting in isolation where there is no accountability.

Black Lives Matter protesters
Photo by Phil Roeder from Flickr

Now that I’ve described the two different terms, what are the key differences? Allyship essentially means challenging the status quo and advancing equity while working with and within current power structures. While on the other hand, working as an accomplice often means to work outside of and/or against these power structures; this could very well lead to facing negative repercussions. It’s also common with allyship that the identity of “ally” is emphasized over actually doing the work of an ally (even though this is discouraged). With being an accomplice, it’s so radical that this is hardly ever the case. To be an accomplice is a lot more work than being an ally, and it is a lot more serious, too.


So should you be an ally or an accomplice? That’s up to you. I recognize that “accomplice” might be a new term for many. Though an ally and an accomplice are related, the distinctions are important. Using the recent Black Lives Matter protests as an example, an ally might participate in protests and follow the lead of organizers. If a protest is escalated by police, an ally might remove themselves from harm’s way. On the other hand, an accomplice would put themselves between the police officers and any BIPOC protestors to act as a physical shield, even if it could result in their own injury or arrest. It should be noted that this example is a bit extreme, but I feel like it gives the best example of how an accomplice would do things to ensure that people who are marginalized don’t suffer from their actions and are protected.


If you’re interested in learning more about what it means to be an ally vs. an accomplice, I encourage you to check out these articles: Allyship (& Accomplice): The What, Why, and How, Accomplices Not Allies, Ally & Accomplice: Two Sides of the Same Coin, Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice, Ally or Accomplice? The Language of Activism and Why being an accomplice is better than being an ally

Mahreen is currently a senior studying Political Science, International Relations and Pre Law. In her free time she enjoys reading books about politics and watching foreign films. She is passionate about helping people, social justice and self care.
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