I’m writing this blog post, not to appear “woke” or the sole source of information on a matter which I still have a lot more learning to do. I write this blog post as a white, British female who has grown up in a northern post industrial town, with very little scope or understanding of the difficulties POC (people of colour) and black families experience on a daily basis. I am not writing this post to take away from the voices of those in the heart of the movement. I will link and refer to some of the sources of information I have used, and I strongly strongly urge you to listen to/read the voices of people who have been shouting for years yet never heard.
I’m writing this blogpost, because I thought I wasn’t racist. I know I’m not racist, but a lot of things we read in the media, taught at school and echoed in the economy and society had skewed my perception of race. Leading me to believe that being a white person who had no problem with black people was all I needed to do to Not Be A Racist. Yet I was wrong. You might be the same.
I thought I understood what racism was and my drip feed of information about the Black Lives Matter campaigns were presented through news broadcasts and online stories, which were addressed to the public in the same alienated matter as animal rights activities or university students protesting tuition fees. Studying Broadcast Journalism for two years, I’ve learned that sometimes the news is probably the last credible place to get your information from on these matters, especially the right wing media (which surprise, surprise, is predominantly white).
A few weeks ago, if I’d have been asked about my perspective on the BLM movement and racism in the UK (and worldwide), I would have probably given a very vague answer along the lines of: “It’s a good thing to see people campaigning. I don’t care what colour people are, I think we should all be able to live happily together and black people shouldn’t be discriminated against. I don’t think many people are racist anymore, because times have changed and POC are accepted and treated as equals.”
Of course, at the time I believed my views were positive and my mindset of thinking “we are all equal” came from a view to see POC in the same non-biased light I see people of my own skin colour.
However, the last few weeks have really shaken my perspectives and views on racism, and as a white person, I had no idea how to respond to the idea that my “non-racist” views were actually tainted with a very thick layer of White Privilege and lack of education.
But All Lives Matter
They do, correct. The BLM movement doesn’t mean that white lives don’t matter. Black people in western societies have been at the brunt of racism, discrimination and pain for hundreds of years – at the hands of white people. Have the roles ever been reversed on a marked level? No.
The best way to respond to the “all lives matter” idea is to the general white person is to imagine you’ve been mugged and beaten up in a dark alleyway on your way home from work. The police drop the case as they have no evidence. You’re in hospital and out of work. A campaign is set up, headed by yourself and local community to bring justice to you – raise money to help you make ends meet as you’re no longer working, and also buy you a new phone and bag which were stolen from you. Then imagine your neighbour, with good health, a good salary and a better phone than you, tries to boycott the campaign asking “where’s my fundraiser? Where’s my new phone? Don’t I matter?”.
Of course, the BLM movement is far less trivial and more complex than a mugging and sick pay, but the general principle of the above scenario applies to a situation whereby white and white passing people claim that Black people can’t voice their pain from injustice and oppression, as it wouldn’t be fair on the white people who feel like they don’t get to complain about their problems.
We do get to complain about problems, but not in an attempt drown out a deeply political and life changing movement.
Racism also can’t “go both ways”. The oppression and historical power hold of white people over black people serves a strong backbone of the racism against black people.
Black people “being racist” to white people is not an act of racism, it from a place of distress, anger and urge to have power restoration. The handful of race related views that black people may have against white people is build through a history of the tables being very strongly on the other side – white people have systematically and historically been the racists.
Learning about white privilege is something that truly opened my eyes to just how different the world is for black people vs white people.
Prior to learning this term, I would never have called myself privileged, as I have had to work hard to get to where I am, and I’ve never had anything handed to me on a plate. However, white privilege is very different to the privilege that you might assume of entitled vs poor.
White privilege means I can go into a shop without the shop keeper being suspicious. I can work hard at school and get the recognition I deserve. I can open a bank account without being asked where I am originally from, despite being born in Britain. I can be employed in jobs I am barely qualified for, through charm, connections and “winging it”. I can be put on the front page of vogue without causing debate online. I can assume that people won’t just try to touch my hair when I’m talking to them. I can talk about my family history without fear of prejudice. I can get into top level managerial roles without fearing I am there for tokenism.
All of the above, and thousands more situations do not apply for black people. When you understand the scale and immensity of white privilege in comparison to the sheer struggle it takes for black people to be able to do a handful of the above, it feels uncomfortable. The things I take for granted every single day have been a case of blood, sweat and tears for black people. THIS is why the campaigns are so important, so that the inbuilt societal racism that makes white privilege so poignant can be eradicated.
Most managerial figures, CEO’s, Vice Chancellors of universities, landlords, media personalities, actors and politicians are white or white passing. The proportion of black people in these roles is minuscule, and that is not due to lack of ability. The skills and merits of white person can be absolutely equal to that of a black applicant; however the white person is often most likely to get the role. This isn’t always due to overt racism, but sometimes can be.
The proportion of black people in these roles face abuse and discrimination like no other. It only takes one look at the bullying Diane Abbot faces vs her fellow white peers who are clearly only sitting in government because their connections and heritage got them there.
Tokenism and box ticking in a way to aid diversity can also be a concern for many black people, as hiring someone on terms of fitting a company’s diversity margins discredits from the amount of work and effort the individual may have put into their work.
The constant need to learn
As mentioned above, it’s important not to get your education from the grassroots level. This does not mean relying on black people to host TED talks, write books or share their story in a fluffy podcast. It means doing the research yourself. Finding what is available and being grateful that black people have made the choice to produce this work for you to read, but not depending on it. It’s important to hear the stories from the people effected, but it is not their job to share their stories. Black people are not obliged to shout from the rooftops that their family has been at the brunt of racism for decades.
I am still very much in the infancy of learning. This is something that can’t be done by flicking through a few books and reading a tweet. I still will get things wrong, I still need to develop my understanding and continue to make better choices in my life to support the BLM movement. Getting things wrong and learning from it is more important than getting things wrong and sticking with your views. An open mind and a willingness to get uncomfortable with your own perceptions is the most crucial thing.
So when the BLM protests take place, consider the fact that this is something to learn from- rather than ridicule.
If you’re white or white passing, use your voice actively.
I didn’t want to write about the BLM movement, because I didn’t think it was right for a white person to write about it. But then I remembered that I have a voice, and if one person reads this and decides to change their views and educates themselves, then that is a good thing. It’s not up to black people to do the changing – it’s up to white people. We are the ones causing or involved in the problems, and we are the ones who need to change.