“Accountability” – I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Does

I don’t hit my daughter.

I made the decision long before I gave birth that I did not want to hurt my child. I also don’t want to be responsible for teaching her that her body belongs to her only conditionally. She deserves to grow up knowing that no one ever has the right to hurt/harm/disempower her, no matter what mistakes or choices she makes. Black children deserve this – to know that their bodies belong to them, always.

I stopped telling my daughter “actions have consequences” when I realized that was just another way of teaching her life is punitive, that people get to harm you/take your power from you when they don’t like the choices you make. Yes, our actions do have consequences and the power to impact others, but other people hurting us to make us feel bad for our choices is not requisite to us learning this.

Instead, I talk with her about the impact of her actions – on herself as well as others. As a family, we discuss the harm of our actions, why we made the choice(s) that we made, what we were hoping to achieve, how we feel about our own choices and how they have hurt or affected others. We discuss how we can rectfiy any harm caused based on what the people who were impacted would like to see done, and how we are going to navigate these choices in the future. My daughter sometimes asks if she should apologize and I remind her that an apology without changing how we treat people is a lie.

This is accountability.

Personal accountability is taking responsibility for our actions and the impact they have on our lives and the lives of the people in our communities. It is honest, self-reflective, and ongoing. Accountability as a communal practice involves acknowledging the harm in a person’s actions and ensuring they take action to rectify that harm. It is not the same as shaming, discarding or punishment.

I see the word “accountability” misapplied and weaponized in many online spaces in regard to proposed response to someone’s actions. It’s very clear the intent in these contexts is to advocate a desire to see other black people punished and/or disposed of based on perceptions of undesirable conduct as a measure of character. Accountability does not mandate punishing people or throwing them away.

Punitive “justice” has dominated far too much of our history. We are so used to our mistakes being met with “consequences” this reality has obscured our ability and willingness to consider that this is not a requirement for us to progress. We don’t HAVE to punish one another. Our fixation on perpetuating punitive “justice” has only ever been detrimental for us, individually and collectively. We are better than that.

The truth is that many of us aren’t happy with accountability. We want people who hurt us to hurt, or people to hurt how we were hurt. We want others to feel powerless and small the way we were made to feel and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t felt this way and didn’t understand the inclination. Especially in situations of our own victimization, it’s understandable to feel this way and I would never invalidate anyone’s desire to see those who hurt us punished. But we have to be honest about the fact that what we are seeking in those moments is retribution, not accountability.

Accountability to and for each other requires compassion and a willingness to see and acknowledge the humanity in one another.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

A WordPress.com Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: