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Dear Dub: What Does It Mean To Be Complicit?

Photo Courtesy of The Atlantic
Written by Serena Thorn

The word of the year in 2017 was complicit, but what does being complicit mean? The dictionary definition mentions being a part of an illegal activity, but the word has evolved in recent times. Many people are using this word to describe people who watch or participate in institutional or individual discrimination and bigotry.

While outwardly spreading hatred or vitriol is obviously harmful to the advancement of humanity, being complicit is also a hindrance to progress. Unfortunately, there are ways we are all complicit every day.

Why was the word complicit so popular in 2017? Because in American politics many people did not use their power to prevent Trump from being elected in 2016. Those people are complicit in his election and in the rise of his xenophobic, racist, transphobic, and sexist policies. We must also be aware of the ways we take advantage of our privilege and are a part of systems that disadvantage people who are different from us.

It is sometimes hard to acknowledge the times we have been complicit in the discrimination of marginalized groups and individuals. Being complicit is as simple as doing nothing because the inequality at hand does not directly affect you. There are a few ways we can speak up each day to prevent us from being complicit.

1) The first thing necessary to break a cycle is to recognize your own positionality and where your power lies. If you are a man, you can advocate for women. If you are white, you can advocate for people of color. If you are a cisgender individual, you can advocate for transgender individuals.

2) The next thing you must do is educate yourself on the language and actions that work to harm marginalized groups of people. There are many microagressions you may hear each day. A simple Google search provides hundreds of examples.

Next, you must recognize that your world is full of situations that marginalize others. Notice the way your professors treat students of varying genders and races. Notice the way your friends touch and speak to other people while you are out on the weekends. Notice who wrote your textbooks. This step in curbing complicity is highly important because it is a shift in observing and evaluating your surroundings. When you begin recognizing inequality, you will not stop looking for it. 

3) The final step is showing up. This includes showing up both to listen and speak up. Partake in events held by social justice groups and listen to what they say. Let their wishes be heard and listen to how your privilege can help them. Then show up when someone needs to speak up. Be that someone. Speak up when your friends make offensive remarks or when you see someone touching someone in a non-consensual way. If it does not seem right, speak up.

It takes bravery to recognize the ways you are complicit. It is nearly impossible to avoid being complicit altogether, but if we all make it our goal to stop looking the other way when something could potentially hurt our peers and community members, we can make St. Lawrence a better place.

About the author

Serena Thorn