On Allyship

My name is Hillary Detamore, and I use she/her pronouns. I am the CEO/Executive Director at YWCA Olympia, and I want to talk about allyship in the fight for racial justice. I think it’s important to first locate myself in this conversation, as someone who lives and works on the occupied land of the Nisqually, Coast Salish, Cowlitz, and Squaxin Peoples. 

I have mixed-race heritage, who also carries white privilege and who grew up socialized as white. I have cis-privilege, able-bodied privilege, educational privilege, and positional privilege as a CEO, among other forms of social privilege. I came from a mixed-class background and had a straddler class experience growing up in Richmond and Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the geographic and cultural south of the United States. I’m a single, co-parenting, mother of two young kiddos who are six and eight.

I want to start this way as a form of accountability for the unearned advantages I have as a result of all of these privileges and to be transparent about the lenses and conditioning through which I am speaking. I want to give credit for the learnings here to our brilliant and fierce colleagues, the Womxn of Color, who have tirelessly led the way at YWCA Olympia, who have contributed immensely to my growth as an antiracist and to our organizational integrity. 

I want to acknowledge and thank the generations of people who came before us who fought and continue fighting for equity and justice. They lead the way for all of us. I take full responsibility for how my understanding and skills continue to fall short and perpetuate harm. I have a firm commitment to learning, being accountable, and growing as an antiracist and as a caring and loving human being in our collective movement toward Racial Justice.

I am writing this today in unprecedented times. The COVID pandemic has fully displayed the inequities that we have known have always been present since the colonization of these lands. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are impacted disproportionately due to generational trauma and the resulting health disparities, an inequitable healthcare system, crowded living conditions due to systemic poverty, etc. We’ve seen violence inflicted upon Asian individuals and the scapegoating of these communities for a global pandemic.

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, Tony McDade, and so many other Black Americans, at the hands of the police and white, armed vigilantes, have brought the masses to the streets in protest and riots, around the globe, to demand that Black Lives Matter. These are clarions that call for the dismantling of systems that uphold Anti-Black Racism and systemic oppression and the implementation of solutions proposed by Black Americans and other People of Color.  

While I could continue naming the inequities, horrors, and dehumanization that we have been witnessing for years (and it feels helpful to do that in some ways), I’d like to suggest that this alone keeps racism in the abstract for so many. 

We need everyone to take this personally, especially white folx. 
What I’d like to do is present a few thoughts and questions that we’ve been exploring at the YWCA Olympia. Through an exploration of these matters both personally and in the institutions you engage with, we can build foundations that will support accountable allyship in our communities. How do we avoid distancing ourselves from race and racism and recognize how these patterns of dehumanization and violence condition us, operating at the subtle, inner-level? 

At YWCA Olympia, while we are focused on systemic change through advocacy, our primary programs and organizational focus are on deep self-reflection and discernment related to cultural norms needed to see and untangle ourselves from the patterns of conditioning that cause oppression.

  What we are asking of ourselves and the community is both visionary and practical. At this moment, this task in front of us, to become antiracist as individuals and collectively, is asking something fierce. It asks that we look honestly at the ways that white supremacy culture and racism are operating within ourselves. When we do, we realize how strongly it has taken root inside us, manifesting in many ways, overt and subtle. Folks with white privilege, conditioned to uphold oppressive power, often do so without being conscious of it. People of Color, forced to minimize differences or assimilate to dominant norms to survive, are causing lateral harm. The system of white supremacy weaponizes us against each other while continuing unchecked.

YWCA Olympia is inviting all of us to do the work to uproot the conditioning of racism that is operating within ourselves so that we can stop harming one another and stop killing one another. We ask ourselves, and you, to humbly and sincerely listen and implement solutions proposed by Communities of Color, especially Womxn of Color, who are the most impacted. This work needs to happen at all levels and within our government, community organizations, and in our community spaces.
What do these solutions look like? 

At YWCA Olympia, we’re trying to figure this out. We know there’s no one right way. 

These are some of the questions that we’ve been exploring: 

  • What does it look like to hold community space in a way that is aligned with our antiracist values and agreements? As an organization? As individuals?  
  • What does it look like to shift organizational structures away from top-down models of domination and hierarchy, to models that encourage and grow shared leadership? 
  • What does it look like to hold collective care as an organizational value and place as much if not more emphasis on that as we do budget size or the number of individuals served?  

As we’ve been asking these questions and exploring different approaches, we’ve learned a lot and continue to learn. As a result, we’ve deepened our practice, becoming a resource to support our community to do the same. Guided by our values of ‘centering the wisdom and leadership of Black and Indigenous womxn & womxn of color,’ ‘accountability,’ ‘people over systems,’ and ‘collective care,’ we are now focused on community healing, antiracist education, and participant-centered advocacy.

We hold our work and values with integrity in all organizational spaces, policies, and programs to deepen our understanding of how to bring them to action and live them. We are asking you to participate fully. 
There are countless ways to be engaged, but we need you to find a fierce commitment within yourself to doing what needs to be done to end racism and all forms of oppression. You can do this; we can do this – we must; for our world and our future.

By Hillary Detamore

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