The Complicity Cleanse Will Help Make Real Change

by Eliza Castile

Cleanses are, in a word, everywhere. Juice cleanses, tea cleanses — you name it, and there's probably a detox diet based on it. The Complicity Cleanse, however, has nothing to do with changing your eating habits or exercising more; instead, it's about clearing out all the toxins that come from living in a society built on prejudices. Considering how deeply polarized American politics have become, it's easy to distance yourself from systems of oppression, but as the cleanse's name indicates, all of us — not just men's rights activists or white supremacists — are complicit in upholding them in some way. But we can take action to end our complicity, which is what the Complicity Cleanse is all about.

"What we are discovering is that the most well-meaning people still carry their own [biases] and beliefs. It's a natural function of existence," Jackie Sumell, an organizer of the cleanse, tells Bustle over email. "Those [biases], however, may be part of what is fracturing us as a whole."

On its website, the Complicity Cleanse states that "we are made not only of what we eat, but of what we collectively consume." That's where the program comes in: For 21 days, subscribers receive a daily "menu" of quotes, articles, podcasts, and discussion topics, among other forms of media. The topics vary from day to day, but they're all specially curated to help readers unlearn the biases they may not realize they've internalized.

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The current cleanse began on Jan. 1 and runs until Jan. 21 — the same day as the Women's March on Washington. The newsletters, which can be viewed on the program's website, take the form of actual menus, with "appetizers," "main courses," "sides," "daily specials," and so on. There's even a "dessert" option dedicated to self-care. Each day is based on a different theme; the subject on Jan. 3, for example, was the patriarchy. The appetizer was a quote from famous professor and intellectual Dr. Cornel West, and the main course was a list of links defining the patriarchy. Sides contained simple actions readers can take, like taking an implicit bias test or watching a relevant video.

Sumell tells Bustle that part of the cleanse's mission is to provide a "heightened awareness" of issues people may not otherwise consider. She gave an example of an experience she had at an event targeting prison expansion. Although the provided food was homemade and locally sourced, she writes, it was apparently served on styrofoam and plastic. "All the good work one group or person is doing doesn’t exclude it from the responsibility it has to environmental justice, or divesting from fossil fuels — and visa versa," she writes. "The cleanse is full of ideas like that to consider, and things to take us deeper into understanding the outcome of the most recent election."

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When asked how content is chosen, Sumell says that the Complicity Cleanse is a "team sport." Appropriately, individuals and organizations can contribute by sponsoring a day. She adds that the response has been so overwhelmingly positive that there's a possibility of continuing the cleanse in the future. "We want to keep it going but the behind the scenes team is small, so we need folks to contribute their ideas, actions, and menus!" she writes.

When asked to describe the ultimate hopes for the Complicity Cleanse, Sumell outlines them as follows:

That we are kinder to each other no matter what. That folks feel empowered in spaces (physical and emotional) where they once felt powerless. That we collectively stop finger pointing and relying on social media as activism. That we create an expandable curriculum to divest from mechanisms of oppression.

After the results of the election, the Complicity Cleanse could be a hugely useful tool for people looking to make concrete changes under the coming administration of Donald Trump. To read more about the cleanse or sign up, check out the Complicity Cleanse website.