The first time I ever heard the word ‘racism’ was when I was around seven years old, boarding full-time in an international school in Africa. I had an argument with a roommate who had left a wet towel on my bed, and they told me I was being mean to them because of the colour of their skin.
I remember the feeling of utter confusion in that moment. What?! Why would anyone do that? What had skin colour got to do with anything?
Sure, in the village I lived in we had always drawn attention because of being pale-skinned, but I always just assumed it was because we were different. Sure, we were in the minority, but we were singled out by way of curiosity, never contempt. The idea of treating someone as ‘less’ because of the colour of their skin was completely alien to me.
My house parent had to explain what racism was to me that night. I vividly remember being genuinely horrified and tearful, and struggling to get to sleep.
Most of us would be horrified if we were ever accused of being racist, wouldn’t we? But in the last week or two on social media, there have been a lot of accusations flying around. I’ve seen a lot of people point out the lack of consistency in others – you’re ‘pro-life, but you’re not pro-black,’ ‘you’re not protesting about people on beaches in a pandemic but you’re enraged about street protests.’
But what I haven’t seen much of is rage at the inconsistency in ourselves (and by ourselves, I mean me, and all those who are white).
We say we are utterly opposed to racism, but at the same time most of us are hopelessly unaware of our own privilege. Where is our acknowledgement that most of us will never fully comprehend the predicament of victims like George Floyd because of the inherited privileges of our ‘whiteness?’ While we champion the cause of the oppressed, we remain entitled and spoiled. We do not fully appreciate how unfairly privileged we are.
We need to open our eyes.
We need to be awakened to the assumptions we make every day. Yesterday I did just that, to a very small degree. A friend sent me a link to ‘The White Privilege Test’ on monitorracism.eu. It was a simple tick box exercise, but every tick I made was like salt poured on an open wound. Here are three that touched me deeply:
‘I am never asked to speak for my entire racial group.’
‘I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, the colour of my skin will not work against me.’
‘I can choose plasters in flesh colour and have them more or less match my skin.’
How many of these things have we never even thought about? Have we taken completely for granted?
We need to remove the blindfold.
When I was growing up one of my cousins was an avid Michael Jackson fan. I have this fond memory of us dancing together in his living room to the song, ‘Black or white.’ Released in 1991, the single’s combination of great music and positive anti-racist message meant three weeks after release it had topped the Billboard Hot 100. One would have thought that by 2020 the sentiment, ‘It don’t matter if you’re black or white’, would be true. Many of us have duped ourselves into believing that it is. But actually, it seems that in our unjust world whether you’re black or white does still seem to matter. A lot.
So I’ve been thinking, what can I do? How do I authentically express that I am incensed by the tragic murder of George Floyd? How can I productively channel my anger towards this virus of racism that still pervades our human relationships and plagues society as a whole? How do I actually demonstrate that in my heart of hearts I truly believe that every life matters? That humans are all created inherently equal in the image of their Creator?
Because I believe that we need to do something more long-lasting and meaningful than a temporary profile picture or an angry emoji on a Facebook post. These gestures are good, but the Martin Luther Kings and Rosa Parks of history have shown us all too clearly that meaningful action is inherently a response that actually costs us something, that ‘hurts’ us in some way – whether that be our time, our tears, our nights’ sleep, our money, our freedom, or even our lives.
How I choose to use my inherited privileges reflects who really matters to me, deep down. Myself, or those who are marginalised? It’s that simple.
To demonstrate the fact that all lives matter profoundly to me:
I choose to take off the blindfold of privilege.
I choose to seek understanding from those who have experienced racism first-hand.
I choose not to stay silent anymore.
I choose to do something that costs me something.
Here are some possibilities I’ve committed to exploring personally:
To learn more. To try to understand the challenges people all around me are facing every day. To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
- Speak out
I can write a letter, sign a petition, or march peacefully when it’s an appropriate time to do so. At the same time, I can condemn violent demonstrations and victimisation of police, because this is wrong too.
I can give my time, resources or finance to organisations and individuals directly involved in the fight against injustice.
I can teach my children, who will one day enter every segment and stratum of society, that they can – and should – be a force for change. I can buy them story books that reflect and celebrate diversity. I can teach them about the injustices of history. I can model inclusivity.
- Be consistent
I can stand against injustice of all kinds. I can consistently call out oppression when I see it, and I can check myself for any prejudice that might be lurking in my own heart.
Choose to take off the blindfold
Choose to see.
Choose to respond.
Choose to act.
The problem of racism matters. The question is, how much does it matter to you?
P.S Here’s some resource ideas if you want to explore this topic further :
- The White Privilege Test (www.monitorracism.edu)
- White Awake by Daniel Hill (book)
- Scene on Radio – Season 2 “Seeing White” (podcast)