Accountability

What is accountability?

We all cause harm. Especially in doing the work of trauma healing and anti-oppression, it is impossible to not cause harm or have hurtful impact on someone.

For me, accountability is admitting when I have made a mistake or purposely caused harm or had negative impact on someone. It involves listening to the person's hurt and apologizing for the impact it had, and changing my behavior in the future to avoid causing further harm. If it was purposeful, it also involves owning that intent and doing the work necessary so that I'm not continuing this behavior. This is all, at its most basic level: admitting I caused harm, listening, apologizing, and changing my behavior in the future. 

In my work, some of the things I say and do will feel harmful to some people with oppressed identities, and not harmful to others with the same identities. Part of undoing my whiteness is to hold space for this complexity - all humans are individuals, which means that something I say may feel harmful to some people with marginalized identities and not to others. 

A few of my core beliefs around accountability:

  • Everyone causes harm. Everyone has survived harm. We are all working from a place where we've been socialized to either be oppressed or oppress others, or more likely, both, with the different identities we hold. Accountability isn't something to avoid or be scared of, but it is an opportunity to examine and undo all of the ways we've been taught to oppress others or ourselves.

  • The relationship is more important than being "right" around what happened. I'm not accountable to find shared truth, because I want to do the right thing all the time, or because I want to "save face" - I am accountable because I care about your pain, I care that I've hurt you, and I want people to feel like our relationship is one where harm can be released and trauma healed. I care about the harm that I cause you because you are a fellow living being in this world, and I care about your well-being and pain as much as my own.  

  • The end goal isn't to not make any mistakes or cause any harm (a core tenet of white supremacy culture), it is to create a culture where harm can be easily talked about and held in community, where people want to change their behaviors and apologize when they are causing harm. 

  • My vision for this world is to be healing our wounds and trauma faster than we are creating new ones, a world where we know how to listen and heal harm and move on in ways that work for all of us. 

  • We have a culture of punishing and disposing of people who make mistakes, and I want to actively work against that cultural norm, both when being accountable and when holding others accountable. People making mistakes doesn't mean that they are disposable. There is always room in my heart for people to see their mistakes and change behavior. 

    • That said, it is ok for me or others to take space from someone who is causing them harm. Boundaries are ok, too. ​Sometimes boundaries are a necessary and wonderful way to take space from being retraumatized by a person or behavior, enough space to process some pain and come back later to address the harm caused. 

    • It is fine for people to take permanent space from each other, for example, when a person causing harm keep repeating the behavior without changing their behavior in any substantial way, or the person harmed continues to have a trauma response around that person. Not disposing of people in community doesn't mean we all have to be close and chummy with each other after harm has happened. 

Read more from other people:

Contact me about harm I've caused:

If you have a marginalized identity and would like to bring something to my attention or hold me accountable for oppressive behavior, you can use this form. It can be anonymous or not, and you can request a reply or not. If you would like it to be anonymous, you can enter the email "dwq.feedback@gmail.com." I have a group of colleagues from many marginalized identities that support me in my accountability. I prioritize voices from marginalized communities that I have privilege over, and this is not a form for people who hold privilege over me to give me feedback (i.e. if you are a cis white person giving me feedback about how you feel as a cis person in my workshops or how I interacted with a cis person you know, you can use the "Contact Me" form, not the accountability form, but if you're a cis Black person who has feedback about how I talk about gender and erase your experience as a Black person interfacing with gender, this is a great form to use. You can also use the contact me form - whatever works for you, works for me. It's a subtle distinction, I know, and I'm here  to be in the complexity of it with you.).