This piece is another layer to my series about change: what change is, what the work of change looks like, and recognizing change in yourself and others. In Part 1, I specifically covered what the process of change generally looks like and how to give a meaningful apology. And in Part 2, I explained how how to set realistic goals/plans for change and started covering accountability as part of the how to create long-lasting change. Now, I’m moving from individual people taking account for their actions to community accountability. Community accountability is an important part of healing and re-joining the community when there’s been harm done. This piece will cover the basics of community accountability because I am seeing a lot of confusion of what that can actually look like. Community accountability creates situations where change is even possible. It sets the scene for change. Creates an environment that’s ripe for change and that helps change continue to evolve and grow stronger. Using INCITE’s talking points as a guide, I want to talk about what community accountability looks like on a basic level and how holding ourselves and each other accountable provides fertile ground for a better future.
Here are some pieces of mine that set the foundation for this so feel free to read them here in advance:
What Does The Word “Community” Mean To You?
What is community? The dictionary defines it as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” and “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”. How are WE defining community? Ultimately, this questions boils down to: Who are we responsible for and who is responsible for us? White supremacy and capitalism encourages individual people to only think about themselves. It’s part of American/western values. That’s why you see an emphasis on nuclear families in this society. These values are part of the reason why elderly parents get dropped off at nursing homes while people move on with their new families. White supremacy/capitalism encourages people to only think about one’s own personal happiness above all else to focus less on systemic oppression. Reminds me of that video of Black cisgender heterosexual male celebrities not wanting to give money to the people in their personal lives (usually relatives) who supported them before they got put on. That individualistic mindset doesn’t see the difference between setting boundaries vs. looking down on the people who helped them get where they are now. It’s a rejection of community-based thinking (that got them where they are) for a individualistic “I got mine, get yours” mindset. Due to systemic oppression, Black people and other POCs do not have the generational wealth that makes living that individual life possible. Many of us are living paycheck to paycheck, trying to live up to unrealistic western/American bootstrap ideals. It’s a scam. We are stronger together and all that good stuff.
And I’m not just talking about pooling resources. I’m also talking about helping each other grow. A community that doesn’t hold each other accountable and find healthy ways to deal with issues will rot from the inside out. There is no community without trust and there’s no trust without boundaries: both setting them with people and respecting the boundaries of others as equal to yours. Like I said in “The Process of Change” Part 1 piece, “When you trust other people to respect your boundaries, there’s a freedom there. You feel more comfortable being relaxed and being yourself because you don’t need to worry about any threats”. Boundaries and accountability create safety and freedom for EVERYONE in the community, not just a select few allowed to feel comfortable at all times. A healthy community is one that has set agreed-on boundaries, values, and goals that support everyone and that everyone in the community wants to protect and live by. Like I’ve said before, community members have to ethically work together equally, using everyone’s special skills. We all have equal work to do to save our communities and ourselves. We are all important with things to say and skills to share. And we all have toxic shit to work through. Working together intentionally and honestly is key. Too often we get caught up in the white-centric belief that we need a usually male leader to save us. We have all the power we need in ourselves. We gotta start healing from this white supremacist socialization/brainwashing. No leaders. No liaisons to white people. No Black messiahs. We need to truly tap into the power in ALL of us together.
What Are The Values That We Uphold?
A community’s values are its compass. Ideally, our values guide how we act and move in the world. And vice versa. Your actions should match the values you say you live by. If you say you uphold safety, anti-violence against all women, etc., your actions should match those values. Now is the time to do some inner work and see what your values are AND to what extent do they uphold systemic oppression, for yourself and for others. Many people state values with their mouth that never match how they act in the world and don’t match what they model to younger generations. If these are our values, this is how we should be acting in front of the youth (and this is how the youth are acting because they are an honest reflection of who we are as a society). If these are our values, we should be creating a society where doing certain things is unthinkable and undesirable for ANYONE to do. No exceptions. That’s the power behind the community: intentionally creating the environment and the mini-world for themselves. Setting standards for living and behaving. Which is something that a single person, most of the time, does not have the weight to do. A group of people held together with a set of values is powerful.
What Are Some Ways We Can Make The Community Safe For Everyone?
This is another time when the power of many rises above the power of one. By setting standards of what’s okay and what isn’t: “Nah, we don’t do that mess here.” By supporting the boundaries of others. And even by providing other kinds of support so people’s basic needs are met and they can focus some energy on setting/maintaining their own boundaries. There’s many other different ways to support each other. Financial support: donating money directly to people’s GoFundMe’s or twitter hashtags like #TransCrowdFund. Volunteering time and providing physical support, like helping marginalized people move, helping people get gender-affirming clothes, etc. Passing along information and community resources right to the people who need and could use it.
Teaching adults and kids about enthusiastic consent in all situations, not just sex, is another incredibly important way community members can keep the community safe. Of course, free comprehensive sex education for adults and kids is very, very necessary to counteract the toxic socialization around sex and sexuality. A lot of the time, I see the conversation around creating safety ending at self-defense classes. More people need training in crisis intervention, de-escalation, and how to make a safe space. There needs to be more opportunities to learn alternatives to violence with the understanding that self-defense may have to include violence sometimes.
What Are Some Ways We Can Deal With Interpersonal Violence And Other Kinds Of Abuse Within Our Communities?
Let’s talk about the role accountability plays in dealing with violence within a community. Again, individual people come together to set standards of what is acceptable in the community both directly and indirectly. Directly meaning a community can set up actual rules for how people can conduct themselves. Individual people can also indirectly choose how they want to set up their personal boundaries around the person who has hurt others. People can choose not to provide services or otherwise engage with someone who they feel has crossed a line with their behavior. There’s a fundamental difference between refusing to deal with someone because of a unchangeable part of their identity like being Black and/or transgender vs refusing to deal with someone whose behavior has caused a level of harm that you are not comfortable having in your life. Harm can also mean acting in ways that play into someone’s systemic oppression. And, remember, boundaries are not about controlling other people’s behavior. They are about setting standards and limits in our lives for what we will and won’t tolerate. They involve clearly spelling out what we need and don’t need in our lives and walking in the spirit of that. That’s all boundaries are and that’s all “cancelling” is: People deciding what they want and don’t want in their lives. Deciding what they will and won’t put their energy and/or money towards. People don’t have to deal with everything and everybody. Like I’ve said before, people who try to keep others from setting boundaries are exactly why boundaries are needed in the first place. Not everybody needs the same access to you and to your energy. And it’s fair for people to decide that someone, as a result of harmful behavior, can’t be trusted with their energy or a certain level of access to them anymore. Somebody will always have their close people, but there could be people that just “don’t fuck with” them because of something they did. Because actions do have consequences.
The first priority of a community is safety for the most marginalized. When the most marginalized in a community feel safe, we are all safe. Any areas where they don’t feel safe are flaws in our armor, exploitable by oppressors. And the next priority for a community is creating/maintaining an environment where safety and true, healing change can grow. A community that upholds shared values and holds every single person in the community to those values is a safer one for all. A community that prioritizes the security of the oppressed over the comfort of more privileged is a safer one for all. And yes, yes, restorative justice. Restorative justice and change for those who have caused harm is not possible if the community/environment is not set up for change. How can restorative justice happen if the community is fully of enablers? How can restorative justice happen if many people want to rush to the forgiveness and moving on part without the constant inner work and long term public accountability that comes with change?
Instead of shaming individuals for setting boundaries around behavior they will or will not tolerate, it should be seen as part of the natural consequences of someone’s actions and part of being held accountable for the effect their actions had on other people. A chunk of the reason I think communities of color should divest from police departments and the criminal justice system in general (beyond its well-documented role in the systemic oppression, torture, and deaths of many of us) is how ineffective it all is at the lie it sells the general public: punishing people stops them from doing things we don’t like/want. Tons of peer-reviewed research over the decades shows that punishment does not work for lasting meaningful change. Like I talk about in the Part 2 to corporal punishment piece, people learn best from positive and negative reinforcement (encouraging a behavior), from watching how other people act, and from dealing with the natural, real life consequences of their actions. That’s why enabling someone and shielding them from the natural consequences of their behaviors actually hurts them in the long run because they never get to learn from life and never get to grow. Communities holding their members accountable is part of restorative justice. Healing and change does not happen without acknowledging exactly what happened and without acknowledging the lives that were affected. Healing and treatment cannot happen without acknowledgment and accountability either. That’s also why I wrote the 2-part series on the process of change, not only to assist people in being able to recognize what change actually looks like, but also how to recognize someone who is avoiding change and accountability.
To What Degree Are We Working Against The Systemic Oppression That Creates The Conditions For Violence In Our Communities And/or Makes Things Worse?
It is absolutely important that there is community awareness of systemic oppression. How can a community know how to keep its members safe without awareness of everything they are up against? Knowledge of effects of socialization, historical events, and systemic oppression help guide community members on ways to work together and to come up with lots of different solutions. This knowledge must come from many different, well-rounded, trusted sources: academic sources, lived experiences, books, etc. ideally from people of color. Everyone has something of value to share. And using this shared knowledge creates the environment where it is safe to do inner work. Developing self-awareness, awareness of the impact your actions have on the community, and awareness of the community’s effects on you is key. People’s feelings and the way they see the world is affected by so much socialization that critical thinking, self-reflection, and other kinds of inner work are part of the work that comes with real long term healing and true change.
Awareness (self-awareness and awareness of socialization) is the just the first step. And it’s an important one, setting the foundation for the kinds of revolutionary change we hope for. A lack of awareness leads to falling for white supremacy’s fronts and blaming ourselves and our own people for our own oppression. What are ways community members can deal with problems in our communities without calling the police who are a danger to us? What are ways we can support people in our communities who are especially vulnerable without getting tangled in a part of the system? I’m thinking community-based prevention and support. We’ve been socialized to say “not my problem” and expect the government, police, and/or court system to come in and deal with issues like homelessness, people struggling with chaotic use of drugs, parents who won’t pay child support, intimate partner violence/domestic violence, etc. instead of coming together and dealing with it ourselves as a community. In a perfect world, we could rely on a government to provide us with resources and services (I mean, that’s what we pay taxes for and that’s where our tax money should be going…ideally), but the reality of the situation is the criminal justice system and the government in general was not created with our growth and betterment in mind. Too many of us have been traumatized and have had our entire lives changed by police, courts, etc. for us to really think we are the ones they are protecting and serving. At some point you start to realize on many levels that we aren’t being protected. Whiteness and the power/privileges of white supremacy are what’s being served here…and being “protected” from us. Many of us already know this low key and high key, but it’s one thing to know it and it’s another thing to make the moves to solve our own problems.
It’s time to start thinking about the ways that you can help to create an environment that’s ready and encouraging for change. How can you and others encourage accountability in your communities? It’s scary to really realize we are alone and that institutions/systems in society are not there to help us. Terrifying. But we have each other. The work needs to be done (both our personal inner work and our community-level work) and it’s all very possible if we ALL willingly work to undo socialization and move forward together. We are our own power and our power is limitless. No leaders. No messiahs. We got us.
Thanks for reading. The next piece in July will cover child abuse and neglect, breaking down what it is, how to recognize some signs in children, and what we can do as a community.