The combination of recent events in the USA and the growing evidence that BAME communities are more affected by Covid-19 than any other community has, I am sure, affected all of us in some way or other. The horror of the killing of George Floyd, the anger in response to Amy Cooper’s call to the police and the despair at the response of some white politicians and ordinary people. No wonder I have become even more self aware of my white privilege. I am part of the problem.
if you’ve NEVER had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.Lori Lakin hutcherson, 2016 – Got privilege?
Whilst as a woman I have not always felt safe when out at night and have struggled sometimes to be taken seriously, to have my voice heard, and to receive equal pay I have never had people be fearful of me because of the colour of my skin. Occasionally I have been aware of the colour of my skin because I was exploring part of London, San Francisco and Hong Kong where I was in the minority, but I was never made to feel uncomfortable, made unwelcome or harassed. I benefit from white privilege.
Occasionally when travelling on my own I did let someone know if I decided to go on a walk in a park or wilderness on my own, but that was in case I fell into a ravine or got lost, not because I felt scared about what others would do. I have never had to worry that the police might be suspicious about my behaviour if I go out walking, birding or carrying an expensive camera, or that someone might call the police or tell me to leave. I benefit from white privilege.
Racism is not about mean people, nor is is just about hate or fear. It is the insidious way in which we fail to challenge the system we all live in, fail to remember the names of others who have died in custody and/or at the hands of the police (Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Tamir Rice, Dominique Clayton, Rashan Charles, Sean Rigg, Roger Sylvester, Joy Gardner, Cynthia Jarrett, and so many more) and the way we fail to acknowledge, let alone learn about and champion black achievements, role models and experiences.
I know female history and achievements have until recently been largely hidden from the history books, documentaries, public statues and exhibitions, but at least I have always been aware of women in history. Britain’s black history, black literature and black culture though has almost been invisible from our education system , and even when we make the occasional reference to major historical events in the UK such as the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, it is from a white perspective. We make little or no mention of the Blacks who were part of the abolitionist movement here in the UK nor the fact that the British Government made financial payments to the whites who had owned enslaved people but made no reparations to the enslaved people or their descendents. That’s white privilege and white fragility.
Whites have to do better, we have to engage with what is currently happening. We also need to acknowledge what has happened in the past and understand we are part of the problem no matter how ‘woke’ or ‘liberal’ we think we are. As someone much wiser than me has said ‘racism is a system, not an event‘.
We cannot remain on the sidelines just observing. We need to become an ally to the black community.
True allies listen and learn before getting involved. We may even need to do some unlearning, and reading is a good place to start. These are a few books I have been reading over the past couple of years. They have helped open my mind.
- White Fragility – Robin Diangelo
- Why I’m no Longer Taking to White People about Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Brit (ish): On Race, Identify and Belonging – Afua Hirsch
- Becoming – Michelle Obama
- Black and British: A Forgotten History – David Olusoga
- Warriors Don’t Cry – Melba Beals
- A Mighty Long Way – Carlotte Walls LaNier
- Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly
- A Drop of Midnight – Jason Diakité
This reading list is not definitive and I know I have so much more to learn. It is though a start. I have also been actively seeking out and helping to amplify black voices on social media. It is all too easy to surround ourselves with those who think the same, and to delude ourselves that the world around us is fair. It isn’t.
Jack has five sweets and Jill has three sweets. If you give both of them three sweets, Jack still has more.Femi Oluwole, 2020
We will never see, hear or cherish the contributions of other communities let alone understand their daily experiences of racism unless we widen our reading, expand our listening and open our minds. And this learning and self evaluation will need to be continual, if we are to come together and eradicate the institutional and personal racism that exists in this country, in the USA and elsewhere.
I’ve decided I am not going to open this post to comments. Instead if you are white I invite you to join me in recognising our white privilege and fragility. And read about it before you react or act! It is no longer enough to say you’re not a racist. We need to learn how to be anti-racist at work, at home, in our community and online. If you can donate to an anti-racism charity such as Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust in the UK, Black Lives Matter in USA and ANTaR in Australia. If you are black I just want you to know I am finally listening and beginning to act. I am here if you need an ally.