On #BlackLivesMatter - a message to other white people
If you have been on social media in the past few days, you will have noticed an outpouring of support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
As much as the mainstream media might avoid talking about it, people in their millions have been voicing their support publicly and privately to this campaign.
Whilst it is extremely encouraging and empowering to see so many white people raising their voice and acknowledging white privilege, there has been something in the outpouring that has left me a little disconcerted.
There are people I know sharing content who only a short while ago felt comfortable using the n-word when quoting their favourite rap songs.
There are people sharing content who will cross the road if they are walking down a street at night and see a black person walking towards them.
There are people sharing content who will regularly dismiss the microaggressions my POC friends’ experience as them simply “reading too much into it”.
Granted, people change, grow and evolve, and I sincerely hope that this recent burst of energy, combined with social isolation, has made people introspective.
However, I fear that there are striking similarities between this and the #MeToo movement that gained widespread popularity in 2017.
In a similar vain, I saw an enormous number of people pledging to become allies and deploring sexism, misogyny and sexual harassment.
And yet, many people I know who aligned themselves publicly to this movement still treat women like shit.
One person I know won’t listen to music by women because they fear they won’t be able to understand it.
Another quite brazenly misleads women as to the sincerity of their feelings simply so he can fuck them.
Others will crack sexist jokes in an ironic tone of voice, implying that they don’t really mean what they said - and yet they still said it.
I am not here wanting to draw an equivalence between racism and sexism, although I would argue that your feminism doesn’t mean shit if you’re not actively anti-racist, and vice versa.
Nor am I striving to criticise the outpouring of emotion and support for these incredibly important movements.
What I am trying to highlight here is the fact that aligning yourself to these causes goes beyond sharing an Instagram story, or agreeing with your friends that “the situation is really bad”.
It even goes beyond attending a protest and voting for actively anti-racist political parties, although all of these things are vital and should still be done.
A wise person I know once said, in relation to environmental activism, that to begin cleaning the world we should first clean the polluted rivers of our hearts.
I take that to mean that if you want to outwardly change a situation, you should first see how you are contributing to it.
Ok. So you want to change the racist system of oppression that has become more evident to you over the past few days?
That racist system of oppression is the one you were born into and shaped by; it stretches back hundreds of years.
This insidious monster has helped shape you - through the news outlets, through the media you consume, through the teachers you had at school.
You experience the world through implicit biases, that automatically instils you with a predisposition to be racist.
You didn’t choose them, you might not agree to them; but they are still there. However, you can play an active role in dismantling them.
That dismantling goes beyond simply sharing posts, voting Labour and having constructive conversations.
It involves a brutal honesty: we are racist. We might not want to be, we might work against racism, but there are implicit biases that rule our lives.
Once you’ve accepted this, can you be even more honest with yourself? Can you admit to yourself one fucked up, racist thing you have done, thought or said?
How about admitting that thing to another person? Do you feel confident enough in your anti-racism to call racism out in yourself?
Once you’ve admitted it, can you commit to spotting your implicit biases in your everyday life and work hard to correct them?
The battle against racism is by no means easy, and I would be the last person to claim that they were perfect.
I am a white, cis-gendered male, from rural England who went to an expensive boarding school. I have as many implicit biases as anyone else.
I work hard to admit them to myself and I am thankful that I have a supportive group of friends with whom I can work through my baggage.
But there is still more I can do, and I accept that white people have many lifetime’s worth of work to do.
That work will involve mistakes, it will require making ourselves vulnerable, and it will demand that we are honest.
Beyond this, it will require you to be fearless and hold your hand up when you have got things wrong.
So start now and admit to yourself when you have been less than what was needed of you; I believe it is the first step to being a meaningful ally and that it is wilfully naive to act as if you are beyond all of this.