Dr. Bettina Love once said, “Allies know all the language, they read all the books, they come to the meeting with all the terms … That’s the difference between being an ally and a co-conspirator. To be a co-conspirator is to take risks for somebody, to put something on the line. But to use it in a way in which you’re using your privilege.”
In a college gym filled with music from the band and cheers from fans, I recently found myself in a situation that transcended the game of basketball — a Courtside Chronicle that illuminated the stark difference between being an ally and a co-conspirator.
It was a night out for me and three of my friends. In the words of Drake, we were “sitting courtside, not the middle row.” The thrill of the game was momentarily shattered when an usher who presented as White approached, asking for our tickets while seemingly overlooking others in the same section. For context, my friends and I were the only Black people sitting courtside. Additionally, it feels important to name that this took place at a predominantly White institution (iykyk).
The inquiry from the usher completely changed the mood. Unable to shake the feeling after a quarter, I later engaged in a conversation with the usher. She insisted that the ticket inquiry had nothing to do with race, explaining that she hadn’t seen us walk in. Mind you, this happened during the third quarter and we’d been seated in that section for the entire game. As someone acutely aware of my identity in a predominantly White space, the elusive sense of belonging was clear.
Two women who presented as White witnessed the exchange and offered their apologies as they acknowledged the potential for this incident to serve as a learning opportunity for the usher. Now I’m all for teachable moments … hence the name of this blog. But constantly doing the teaching and taking risks can be draining.
After the game, a Black man and woman approached me, expressing gratitude for speaking up. They shared their hesitations, explaining that the risk of speaking out in such situations could have adverse consequences. This is yet another reason why outlining the difference between being an ally and a co-conspirator remains important. In extreme cases, it can mean the difference between offering condolences and saving a life.
Years ago I created a shirt with a simple yet powerful message: “In a world full of allies, be a co-conspirator.” It involves more than just apologies and reading books — it’s about actively dismantling oppressive systems, confronting discomfort, and assuming the role of teacher even when it’s challenging.
As we reflect on this incident, let’s consider the impact each of us can have by becoming genuine co-conspirators in the fight for justice. May this serve as a reminder that our collective efforts, even in the seemingly inconspicuous moments of a basketball game, can pave the way for a more inclusive and just world.